The General and Julia

Atria. Nov. 2023. 272p. ISBN 9781668009789. $26.99. F
Clinch (Marley) reimagines Ulysses S. Grant’s touching last months, suffering the ravages of throat cancer while trying to finish his memoirs that will provide income for his family. With generous doses of his doctor’s cocaine, morphine, and brandy mixture, Grant captures the momentous events: his courting of Julia up against her wealthy irascible father with strong Southern sympathies; Civil War battles as a much revered general; his opinion of the Confederate peace commission (“all shuck and no ears”); his term as U.S. president; his failure as a Wall Street businessman in the panic of 1873; his financial rescue by a grateful Vanderbilt. Clinch’s fondness for his subject shows in descriptions of Grant’s devotion to his family, his treatment of the hired help, and his loyalty to his Black valet Terrell. As a nation mourns, Grant’s memoirs, in the hands of publisher Samuel Clemens, will far outsell Clemens’s own self-published Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
VERDICT Clinch’s compelling study conveys the complicated legacy of Grant, who had no pretense for pageantry, deeply loved his wife and children, and treated everyone with decent human kindness. A remarkable novel, utterly gripping.
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