Sergeant Hiram Tobit finds little comfort when he returns to the hill country of South Carolina after World War I. His mother has committed suicide in his absence, and he has no intention of contacting his estranged father, Sloane. But the epigraph of Lambs of Men, a fragment of the Biblical story of the sacrifice of Isaac, tells us that the father-son relationship will form the heart of the novel. Author Charles Dodd White dresses acts of appalling violence in haunting, exquisite language—flashbacks of the trenches, campfire stories of tragedies long past, and the murder that brings the Tobit men back into contact. Midway, the narrative shifts from Hiram’s point of view to Sloane’s, granting readers glimpses inside both taciturn men as they struggle for a measure of redemption.
Hiram begins his literal and figurative uphill journey from the Low Country to the place of his birth amid swirling fog, melting snow, and torrents of rain. White paints a fierce and foreboding landscape. There’s no misty romanticism here but rather an intimate portrait of a majestic land that takes no heed of the people who live, fret, and die upon it. The fictional Sanction County and its citizens, including the Sloane, with his hardscrabble existence, his grief, guilt, and alcoholism, are presented with dignity, not as curious local specimens thrust under the lens of the wider society.
The keenly observed landscape and secondary characters form an authentic regional setting in which father and adult son strive to come to terms with each other and put troubled ghosts to rest. For readers and protagonists alike, the road is harrowing and beautiful.
Editor’s note: Special thanks to Janice Rodriguez for contributing this review!