Lissa Notreallywolf's Reviews > The Whiskey Rebels

The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss
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's review
Dec 15, 14

bookshelves: historical-fiction, american-history
Read in February, 2012

I vaguely remembered the Whiskey Rebellion against excise taxes leveled in the post revolutionary war period. The gist of what I recalled was that whiskey was much less bulky to ship, so the US governemnt started levying a tax on still production. What was left out of this instruction was the fact that the farmers had no currency to pay taxes, and that many of them were revolutionary war soldiers who had traded back pay vouchers for land on the frontier. David Liss always writes novels about economic meltdowns, and I appreciate that within the spy thriller, period detective elements there is information about how stock markets developed, and the effect on the larger society when they soured.
I actually read this very long novel twice because I was interested in how the story, or rather stories were constructed. Joan Maycott's story begins much in advance of Ethan Saunders and it takes hundreds of pages for her time line to catch up with the drunken veteran spy, Ethan Saunder's timeline. One of the lovely aspects of Liss's writing is that his characters, no mtter how smart ( or not) always come into a variety of ephipanies-usually recognizing moral failings, mental inconsistencies or misinformation, and my favorite, misinterpretation. In contrat with the idealistic young Mrs Maycott, a romantic and an idealist, Ethan is a soaked man who enjoys chasing married women. His reform comes through meaningful work and the memory of who he once was and might have been, had he not been forced to leave the US Army. The conditions on the frontier change Mrs Maycott, who becomes as hardened as Ethan believes himself to be. At first the structure appears to be a straight alternation between her recollections and his present tense experience. And then several chapters are back to back Ethan. It makes you wonder how much ended on the cutting room floor, so to speak. Liss acknowledges that he cut Jefferson out of the novel entirely in his afterword. Unfortuantely, I would have liked to have seen how The Great American Sphinx was portrayed. Novels of this scope are the reason trilogies were invented, but I doubt the alternating structure wouldn't have worked in a multiple volume work, if the volumes were to stand alone. What it lacks in Jefferson, it makes up in ALexander Hamilton, but Hamilton isn't very colorful. I'll be curious to see what other people think of this slice of gritty post revolutionary life.

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