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Secrets of the Past - an Editorial Review of "The Last of What I Am"

Book Blurb:

A haunting and beautifully written novel about a Confederate soldier whose own personal war follows him into the afterlife—until one fateful day when his encounters with a modern-day couple change everything.

A ghost in his deserted childhood home in Virginia, Tom Smiley can’t forget the bloody war and its meaningless losses, nor can he shed his revulsion for his role in the Confederate defense of slavery. But when a young couple moves in and makes his home their own in the early twenty-first century, trouble erupts—and Tom is forced not only to face his own terrible secret but also to come to grips with his family’s hidden wartime history. He finds an unexpected ally in the house’s new owner, Phoebe Hunter, whose discoveries will have momentous consequences for them both.

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Editorial Review:

The Last of What I Am by Abigail Cutter is an incredibly well-written and moving story about a haunting. Tom Smiley was a Confederate soldier during the tumultuous Civil War. Upon his death, he finds himself unable to move on and his spirit is essentially trapped in his childhood home. When a young couple moves into his house and begins to clean and rearrange the home he has always known, his spirit is angry and hurt. His encounters with the young couple lead him to reflect on his life as he tries to bear the changes occurring in his home. Smiley recalls his war experience, his childhood in Virginia, the love of his wife and close family, and more. Readers will find themselves immersed in recollection with reflection as they fall in love with Smiley and his past as well as the new tenants of the home.

Famished, I slit my quarry from ear to naked tail, tossed aside the oozing hide, and punctured the pink, shiny body with a stick. Twisting it past bone and gristle, I roasted the flesh over fire until it curled crisp. Oblivious to spikey hair and whiskers, I welcomed it to my tongue, as warm, juicy fat dribbled on my chin.”

One of the most impressive features that readers will notice right away in The Last of What I Am is the incredible writing Cutter uses to tell the story. Cutter’s writing is incredibly detailed and extremely well-written. It is entirely possible that many readers will find The Last of What I Am to be one of the most beautifully written and engaging historical fiction novels they have read. The details that Cutter includes allow the readers to create a vivid mental image of the characters, scenes, and events described within the story. It could even be hailed as one of the best-written books within its genre.

Folks say you take nothing with you when you go to meet your maker, but I’m here to tell you that memory tracks your every step like a rabid dog. Things learned and retained in the mind are a pestilence that not even God can dispel—causing me to wonder if the strange power of remembering isn’t the Devil’s device. Even now, when my wornout body has fallen away and the past is more vivid than the present, I am plagued by mistakes grand and small. There’s no remedy for remorse— memory’s dark shadow—and no fleeing from the mind.”

In addition to the exquisite details, Cutter uses her writing skills to create and develop characters that are incredibly believable and realistic. Readers will find it easy to empathize with the characters, particularly Tom Smiley. The experiences that he recollects throughout the novel, while probably no experiences that readers can directly relate to, are described in a way that readers will be able to understand and commensurate with Smiley’s feelings. Tom’s emotions are deep and Cutter has created a character with depth that readers won’t soon forget.

When the train halted at Manassas, a steady roar of guns and cannons peppered the air in the distance. A racing heart propelled me during the short march from the station, across the wooden bridge over Bull Run, over trampled wheat grass and up Henry Hill to a fringe of dark oaks. Above the crowns of the trees, dense smudges of artillery smoke splotched the sky. Unleashed by heat and terror, salty sweat dripped from my brow into my eyes.”

Another piece of The Last of What I Am that makes the book special and that will appeal to readers is the amount of research that Cutter seems to put into her novel. The Civil War is a popular subject for historical fiction but Cutter takes the events of the war and delves deeply into what the experience of a common rebel soldier would have been like. Many historical novels look at higher-ranking officers or even politicians when they tell a historical story. Getting the perspective of an average soldier during some of the most horrific campaigns brings a new viewpoint of the war to the table. Cutter’s take on this is realistic and it is clear that she most likely used research from letters and diaries of soldiers to develop her characters.

Mothers, sisters, sweethearts of both races. A horde of Blacks in chains—men, women, and children—stepped quietly behind, followed by the entire New Jerusalem Church choir, swathed in yellow robes, voices soaring in a requiem. At the rear, there was Tatternook in his white shirt and black suit. I saw myself as a young boy, then as a tall, melancholy old man.”

The intended audience for The Last of What I Am is most likely those with an interest in the Civil War era of United States history. Those who enjoy a good family drama or a paranormal haunting will also find The Last of What I Am a pleasure to read. Cutter also blends genres such as historical fiction and paranormal stories together in The Last of What I Am making it appeal to a wider range of readers. The book also comes in at right around three hundred pages making it a great size for first-time historical fiction readers without being overwhelming.

These memories have been buried for so long, hidden below recollections of my family life in Augusta. They have the shock of a fresh wound. But curiously, the pain is less than I feared. There my secret is, out in the open for the first time. What if I’d heard myself say these things to Mary or Ellen long ago? Might my family have been as understanding? Spoken aloud over time, would my guilt have lost its power? The words no longer weigh so heavily that I think they’ll crush me. I see no blame or disgust on the faces of my present audience. They don’t condemn, but instead seem curious and accepting.”

The Last of What I Am by Abigail Cutter is one of the best-written novels about the Civil War time period available. An incredible concept of a paranormal haunting influenced by the people moving into a house is expertly intertwined with historical elements and reflections that will pull the reader in right from the first page. Cutter uses details effectively to create vivid scenes in the reader's mind and help the reader connect with the characters and story on an emotional level. These incredible elements combine to earn The Last of What I Am a five out of five rating. It is a book that readers will not be able to put down and that they will think about long after the last page.


“The Last of What I Am” by Abigail Cutter receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence by The Historical Fiction Company



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