[Hear the plaintive song “Lorena” on his violin].
Anyone who read, News of the World by Paulette Jiles, might remember the name Simon “The Fiddler” Boudlin and the love of his life, Doris Dillon. Jiles’s newest work, Simon the Fiddler, brings the life of the young Paducah, Kentucky lad, Simon Boudlin to center stage. Jiles reminds us on her website:
“. . . Simon from News of the World. . . was playing his fiddle in the Spanish Fort . . . You remember the love of his life Doris Dillon. This is the story of how they met, how Simon survived the last battle of the Civil War and how they lived through his own terrible mistakes and the chaos of Texas under Reconstruction. It is a story of music and what those who create music must endure in a rough-and-tumble world.
It seems that Simon’s life began on the fly, so to speak. His father, an itinerant fiddler, paused long enough in Paducah to impregnate Simon’s mother and to pass along the genetic predisposition to love music. Simon’s mother died when he was young leaving him double grieved – born a bastard; now, an orphan. His kind elderly great-uncle, a bachelor, named Walkin’ Dave did his best to raise him.
Throughout the majority of the Civil War, Simon and his uncle thrived and stayed out of the horrific conflict. The day arrived, however, near the end of the war, that their lives were upended. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s forces swept in and burned Simon’s family’s treasured horse barn to the ground and confiscated the horses for the cause.
As a result, Walkin’ Dave walked away. Simon, now in his early 20s, packed his prized violin and set out to make a living performing music gigs where ever he could find them. Present at every turn was the possibility of running into military “conscriptors”, both Union and Confederate, hungry for troops to sustain the fight. He had one advantage; he was slight of build and appeared much younger than his actual age. He also had one disadvantage; a hot-button fiery temper.
Jiles presents a flawed character in Simon. A young man raised in a world without a “normal” family. In her simple style, we follow Simon – a man with a plan as he conceives a future that will bring him peace.
He loved solitude; it was as necessary to him as music and water.
All he needs is a wife, the right wife, a woman that accepts his need for solitude and shares his love of music. A homestead, a place where he can live a life without social interference.
It was there at the Confederate encampment . . . that Simon considered his life and how he would survive in the world to come.
Through the thunder of war, through raucous scenes of bar fights, through placid moments where he is a peace with nature and his own music, we find Simon resolved to live a life of his own choosing. He can be friendly but lacking role models, never learned what it means to be a true friend. He knows what he wants and does what it takes to achieve his dream.
The weakest link in the story is the improbable love story of Simon and Doris. The reader is led to believe that love at the first sight can be sustained while separated through war and reconstruction. The question hangs out there… once reunited and married, can their dream be sustained when facing real life together?
The journey became tedious at times and bogged down with slow motion coverage of the same thing over and over.
The strongest theme throughout the book is the place music plays in life. Ed Power (Irish Examiner, January 31, 2020) expressed the power of music in our lives:
Music moves us – not just physically, but emotionally and psychologically – reducing stress and improving mood. And it’s been doing it for centuries. . . In the darkest days. . . music feels like a shard of light cutting through the gloom.
In the end, I enjoyed the book but News of the World remains my favorite. That said, any book that has me still thinking about issues and the place of music in our lives is a worthy read.