Patricia Ann Kuess crafts a delicately moving portrait of finding love and companionship in the midst of a horrific war.
A man who is desperate for a glorious death and a man who yearns for family meet amidst the despair and horrific violence of the American Civil War. The story of how they slowly form a powerful bond is vividly explored in Patricia Ann Kuess’ grim yet romantic Sweetgrass.
The prologue immediately catches one’s attention with its description of a gruesome amputation. The
reader is then introduced to Johnathan Traver, a sergeant in the Union army. He has run away from both
a bleak family life as well as a love affair that ended badly. He believes that he is destined to die a
‘crimson’ death and he is in search of a Warrior Companion who can share this last, great adventure with
him. When quiet Esher Coley is assigned to his squad, Johnathan thinks that this young man may be the
one he’s been looking for. He seduces Esher and they embark on an affair. While navigating through the
tangles of a romance that neither fully expected, they must also deal with the cruel realities of living in a
military camp and preparing for their next battle. Johnathan struggles to find officers who will believe in
his ideas for modern fighting tactics. He also has difficulty breaking through the emotional barriers that
Esher’s solitary life has compelled him to develop. Together, the two men develop a fragile affection that
slowly grows stronger as they get to know one another.
Kuess is able to evoke the grim atmosphere of camp life with her descriptive, at times poetic, prose. She
makes the sights and the smells feel authentic through an excellent use of a first-person point of view.
However, the limits of this narrative choice constrain the full emotional impact of the story as we never get
to see events through Esher’s eyes. This would have provided additional insights into the relationship
between the two men and further strengthened the reader’s connection to them. But this is a minor
quibble over an otherwise excellently written story that feels both timeless and modern in its depiction of
the intimate details of falling in love.
Those who are looking for a read that’s engrossing and emotional would be served well with Patricia Ann
Kuess’ lovely offering of Sweetgrass.