Saturday, October 20, 2012

REVIEW: Wilderness by Lance Weller


Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain meets David Guterson’s East of the Mountains in this sweeping historical novel of a Civil War veteran’s last journey on the Pacific Coast.

Thirty years after the Civil War’s Battle of the Wilderness left him maimed, Abel Truman has found his way to the edge of the continent, the rugged, majestic coast of Washington State, where he lives alone in a driftwood shack with his beloved dog. Wilderness is the story of Abel, now an old and ailing man, and his heroic final journey over the snowbound Olympic Mountains. It’s a quest he has little hope of completing but still must undertake to settle matters of the heart that predate even the horrors of the war.

As Abel makes his way into the foothills, the violence he endures at the hands of two thugs who are after his dog is crosscut with his memories of the horrors of the war, the friends he lost, and the savagery he took part in and witnessed. And yet, darkness is cut by light, especially in the people who have touched his life—from Jane Dao-Ming Poole, the daughter of murdered Chinese immigrants, to Hypatia, an escaped slave who nursed him back to life, and finally to the unbearable memory of the wife and child he lost as a young man. Haunted by tragedy, loss, and unspeakable brutality, Abel has somehow managed to hold on to his humanity, finding way stations of kindness along his tortured and ultimately redemptive path.

In its contrasts of light and dark, wild and tame, brutal and tender, and its attempts to reconcile a horrific war with the great evil it ended, Wilderness tells not only the moving tale of an unforgettable character, but a story about who we are as human beings, a people, and a nation. Lance Weller’s immensely impressive debut immediately places him among our most talented writers.

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 4th 2012 by Bloomsbury USA
ISBN 1608199371 (ISBN13: 9781608199372)

About the Author
from his blog

Lance Weller is the author of Wilderness upcoming from BloomsburyUSA, September 2012. His short fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train Stories, New Millennium Writings, Quiddity, The White Whale Review, The Broadkill Review and Terracotta Typewriter

My Thoughts
She comes awake with an urgency she does not at first understand, surrendering the overbright tidelands of dream to the bottomless dark of her waking day. A moment before, there'd been a dazzling fire upon a shadow-polished beach and, out upon the rim of the world, a paring of sun to redden the westward ocean.
Civil war veteran Abel Truman lives in a shack by the Pacific Ocean in Washington's Olympic Mountain range. Stern, anti-social, and living the life of a hermit, he knows life is winding down for him, and as it does so, he finds himself on an unexpected quest. He endures tremendous trials, as his memories and past hardships are slowly revealed to us.

I loved this book! And it's a bit surprising how much I loved it, considering it is strongly narrative, and I am more of a dialogue-driven reader. But I used to live in this area, and I have hiked the Olympic Mountains (well, that's a bit of an exaggeration. I have hiked for a few hours at a time in those mountains). I used to look out at these mountains every day, and they are my favorite place on earth.

Combine that with a character like Abel Truman, a gritty old war veteran, a widower, a loner, and you've got me hooked! But Abel isn't completely alone. He shares his little shack and quiet life with a dog that found him years before. This is the second story I've read in the last few months that is about a loner man and his bond with his dog. The last one, The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, became one of my favorite books of 2012, and this book surpasses that one.

Abel seems pretty miserable. He is just enduring life rather than living it. And as you get glimpses into his past, you begin to understand why. You come to realize he has a bit of a death wish, and does not fear death at all; that he would, in fact, find death to be a relief.

But then circumstances change, and he finds a mission to drive him, which then leads to another mission, and what will then become the defining moment in his life. Moments of the story can get quite emotional. Modest and restrained, this story is told in beautiful prose and descriptive text, and that is quite something said coming from someone who is not a fan of descriptive text!

This provocative story starts out being narrated by an elderly woman in a nursing home, looking back on her life and that of her "second father" Abel. But soon after the story becomes solely Abel's story.

There are some wonderful insights into human nature. I usually avoid quoting ARCs, but this one passage particularly moved me...
He agreed that most men remain accountable to themselves only, and that but poorly. He said that the proper chore of a man is to be chargeable for those and that dear to him and that this was something women understood and knew how to do without having to be told. It was a thing women looked for in their men, and this was why most women lived lives of bottomless sorrow.
This passage really struck home with me, as it addresses an issue I've been confronted with in my own life the last several years, and with which I just recently finally found closure.

I would give warning that there is a bit of offensive language and subject matter in this book. Abel was a civil war soldier, and he was a confederate soldier, fighting against abolition, and he speaks like a racist through much of the story. The "N word" is thrown around a fair bit, along with some other offensive terms. There is also death and rape and other violence, but that isn't the bulk of the story. And you wind up loving this man despite his shortcomings.

My final word: This was a story of real substance; a series of complex stories interwoven into poetic beauty and tragedy. Abel becomes a very human, flawed and reluctant hero, and you can't help but admire him. A truly beautiful story!

Buy Now:

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My Rating:


I received a copy of this book to review through Netgalley, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, and quotes could differ in the actual published version.

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