Douglas W Shouse

Reviews

If you love good historical fiction, particularly as it relates to the American south, American Janus is a must read. With its focus on the civil war and reconstruction, it’s easy to characterize the time in history as dark and deeply sad. However, Douglas Shouse exposes the rays of light that penetrate the dark clouds of war and racism in his storytelling of his protagonist, Harper Clayton, and his work to reconcile his experience in the civil war and later as an attorney and activist to help black men and women gain rights and protection.

American Janus is a beautifully written book that transports you back in time so that you can experience the formative years of the United States in the south through the eyes of its characters. The prose is both captivating and elegant, the characters and their relationships are well developed and interesting and you are easily swept up in the life of Harper Clayton and his family and friends. I can't wait for the sequel!

- J Burbridge

Doug Shouse’s American Janus is reminiscent of James Michener’s portrayals of the effects of major historical events on communities and their geographies by focusing on the lives of those living through them over an extended period of time.

In this case, the story paints a vivid picture of day to day life in a growing southern city from the Civil War, through reconstruction and into the twentieth century, a period of dramatic social and economic change.

The characters are sharply drawn and deal with a variety of personal and moral challenges, some successfully and others not. It is an interesting and thoughtful look at a time and place in our country’s history whose complex issues continue posing unresolved ramifications to this day.

- B Vasaly

I absolutely loved reading this story and I asked myself why I found it so compelling. My answer came down to the rich layers of storytelling that are so effectively woven together to create this work of historical fiction.

The first layer is a rich and captivating narrative comprised of characters that I’ve come to truly care about. The second layer is the effort of these characters to navigate, throughout this period of the late 1800s, many of the long-standing social justice issues that we continue to struggle with today. The third layer is the natural pressure that the environment places on these characters of the late 1800s who lack so much of what we take for granted today: modern medicine, public utilities, transportation and the resulting lack of protection from the harsh, albeit beautiful natural world, which can, at an instant, exact rapid and unmitigated hardship to these gentle but rugged people. And the final layer, and what I find to be so unique about this book, is the author's ability, via his vivid use of language and phrasing, to literally transport me back in time so effectively that I can literally taste the candied yams, smell the fragrance of wood smoke in the air, bask in the warmth radiating from the hearth and feel the warm embrace of the family, friends and broader community were so necessary to survival in the world of the late 1800s.

This rich story works on so many levels that it’s hard to think that any avid reader who won’t be transported, like I was, to the world of North Carolina 120 years ago that is so different, yet at the same time so similar to our lives today.

- T Considine

Although American Janus tells the story of a Civil War veteran and his family, the themes of the book still resonate today. Through the Clayton family, Shouse transports the reader to the Piedmont of North Carolina in 1900. Winston Salem was a typical small town with a strong sense of community. Its developing industrial base of tobacco and textiles creates a two-tier economy dividing wealthy and working class residents. In addition, segregation between black and white communities remains. With this backdrop, Shouse explores the joys and heartbreaks of daily life in a community as residents struggle to move forward and shape a place that works for all. It also deals with the trauma of war. I fell in love with all of the characters and would love to see American Janus brought to life as a streaming series.

- C Skaar

I highly recommend the “American Janis” as an engaging historical story of a family and turn of the century culture in a post slavery and burgeoning southern city, Winston, North Carolina. Having just read and thoroughly enjoyed “The Sweetness of Water” by Nathan Harris, I find this period in our shared history particularly intriguing and difficult but very enlightening, particularly in today’s time. The “American Janis” is timely as it adds another fresh perspective on the “Freedman’s” challenge, the plight of the freed slaves and those who support them in the deep south with ingrained biases. It is set in the time of transition from slavery to a free society with a deeply intimate look into a patriarch and his large and prospering family. It is a troubling time with discord among the townspeople and the author has woven an intimate story of rivalries within the community, whether it is the teenage friend of his son who emerges as Klu Klux Klan leader or the chief of police who remains stubbornly stoic.

I was drawn into the story by Harper and his wife Susan and their large family and neighbors and find the author’s character development wonderful. As a reader, Doug helped me to move into his imaginary world - I could smell the Christmas tree and the Christmas dinner. I could hear the awe and joy of presents being opened by excited children and grandchildren and even feel the cold of the New Year’s snowstorm. Harpers relationship with Silver is the epitome of the agony of the troubles of the time. So well done!.

I totally love this novel!!

- M Farley-Austin

The period of reconstruction in the American south was a complex and contentious era in American history that tends to be overlooked by writers of historical fiction. It was a time in which the bright promise of greater freedom and democracy was resisted by those who would cling to a dark past. It was a time whose events would have profound repercussions for the culture and society of present day America.

In his historical novel “American Janus”, Doug Shouse draws us into that turbulent time focusing on the life and times of Harper “Harp” Clayton, a character loosely based on one of Shouse’s ancestors. Conflicted by his role in fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War yet optimistic about the potential for the coming new century, Harp is deeply committed to the goals of equality and freedom for all men. He also believes that a man’s legacy will ultimately be defined by the “virtues and potential of his large and passionate family”. “American Janus” introduces us to that family as they experience the joys, tragedies and betrayals of life in a time where one’s belief in freedom can put one’s family in jeopardy.

“American Janus” treats the reader to a well researched and vividly described picture of southern life in the late 19th century. It’s chock full of rich, nuanced characters. And, it leads the reader into a family drama of love & betrayal, forgiveness & retribution, loss & triumph that plays out on the grand stage of one of Americas most intriguing eras. If you’re a lover of historical fiction, get a copy of this book. I think you’ll enjoy it.

- S Rhodes

The old saying, "it’s hard to put a good book down", certainly applies to Douglas Shouse’s American Janus. He has the writer’s gift of placing you squarely into the period he describes; in this case the American South in the late 19th century, with memorable characters and exciting action. American Janus draws the reader into the lives of Harper Clayton, a Confederate veteran and successful lawyer, his large and diverse family as well as a cast of entertaining antagonists and n’er-do-wells. Harper is drawn to the promise of a new century but can’t put away the horrors of his past in the war and fighting for the freedmen during Southern Reconstruction. The book richly conveys life in North Carolina after the war and into the 20th century with details of family traditions, city anniversary fairs, waterfall picnics, burgeoning town growth stories, and other interesting action. With Harper’s flashbacks to the past, the book also captures the brutal reality of the American Civil War and treatment of former slaves after the war, as well as interesting history not often written about such as the spirited White House wedding reception of President Grant’s daughter. American Janus is a page-turner…a definite hit for those who love American history!

- G Paul