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The Wilding by Benjamin Percy





A powerful debut novel set in a threatened western landscape, from the award-winning author of Refresh, Refresh.

Echo Canyon is a disappearing pocket of wilderness outside of Bend, Oregon, and the site of conflicting memories for Justin Caves and his father, Paul. It’s now slated for redevelopment as a golfing resort. When Paul suggests one last hunting trip, Justin accepts, hoping to get things right with his father this time, and agrees to bring his son, Graham, along.

As the weekend unfolds, Justin is pushed to the limit by the reckless taunting of his father, the physical demands of the terrain, and the menacing evidence of the hovering presence of bear. All the while, he remembers the promise he made to his skeptical wife: to keep their son safe.

Benjamin Percy, a writer whose work Dan Chaon called “bighearted and drunk and dangerous,” shows his mastery of narrative suspense as the novel builds to its surprising climax. The Wilding shines unexpected light on our shifting relationship with nature and family in contemporary society

My Review

This is a story of men out in the woods, a grandfather, his son, and grandson, also a mysterious bear like creature, a kind of Bigfoot loose in the wild.
The first person narrative used, makes great reading, visceral, and page turning.
There are some interesting characters in this story, he really gets you into the characters minds, one mysterious guy a locksmith, a veteran of war, has some strange behaviors away from the eyes of neighbors.
The married couple of this story go through some martial downs, and the wife Karen enjoys her time at home working out, relaxing, free from the attachment of her son and husband while they spend quite a while out in the wild facing some dangers and problems that arise. She feels that her father in law is a bad influence on her son and doesn’t like his behavior. He and his son do clash and have problems but there is still a strong bond at times usually due to the time they spend together doing things that men in that region like to do one being hunting down game in the woods.
There are some elements at work in this story to do with love and trust, and the consequences of the things men do, also the effects of horrors witnessed on the characters in this story.
The writing was visceral, descriptive, vivid, and had a great sense of place and emotion.

“It was a bear—maybe a year old, no longer a cub, big enough to do some damage—and it was tangled in a barbed-wire fence, the barbed wire crisscrossing its body. To this day Justin remembers the blood so clearly. It was the perfect shade of red. To this day he wants an old-time car—say a Mustang or one of those James Bond Aston Martins—the color of it.
The bear, bewildered, now let its head droop and took short nervous breaths before letting loose another wail, a high-pitched sound that lowered into a baritone moan, like pulling in a trombone. A tongue hung from its mouth. Its muscles jerked and rolled beneath its pelt.
Justin stood behind a clump of rabbit-brush as if to guard himself from the animal. The bush smelled great. It smelled sugary. It smelled like the color yellow ought to smell. B concentrating on it so deeply, he removed himself from the forest and was thereby able to contain the tears crowding his eyes.
Then his father said, “I want you to kill it.”
Just like that. Like killing was throwing a knuckle-ball or fixing a carburetor”

“No one ever asked him about the war. Not one neighbor, not one friend or former teacher, not even if they carried a Support Our Troops ribbon on their lapel or bumper. They only said, “It’s good you’re home.” It was at moments like this, especially when their eyes lingered on his forehead—at first the bandages, later the scar tissue, bubblegum pink—that he felt on the verge of collapse. Alone. Inapt. Not a part of Iraq, not a part of Oregon. Not a marine and not a citizen—just a vessel of blood and bone and gristle floating and turning in the air. For a long time he did not feel he was capable of continuing to live a normal life, of achieving any sort of sense of comfort. He felt that he had lost more than a section of his skull. He had lost himself as well.”

“Sitting in his desert cammies on a Curtiss Commando transport plane—on his way out of Romania after a refuel, on his way to Mosul—when he peered from the window and beyond the green rolling hills and sparkling lakes and saw the Carpathians mantled with snow and felt completely alive and connected to the two hundred men around him who would face horror and frustration and who would die for one another.
That feeling is unavailable to him now. He does not see himself as part of anything, only apart. His company is best suited for the woods.”

“Paul has always been like bad weather—relentless, expansive, irritating—but since the heart attack he has grown even wilder and more unreasonable, as if, having cheated death, the laws of life no longer apply to him.”

“An owl hoots. The wind hushes it. The moon appears balanced on a high remove of rimrock. The world, awash in its blue light, appears drowned in water. He scuttles through the trees, pawing aside branches, dodging roots, leaping over logs and landing on all fours and continuing a few paces as a hunched figure before righting himself. He feels a dark wind moving through him like a cold bellows.
His boots shoosh through the sandy soil and thud against the pitted basalt, keeping time with his heart as he moves north, orienting himself by the stars and the blue-hued mountains glimpsed between the trees. And the moon, always the moon, following his passage.”

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 26 April 2013