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Wilderness by Lance Weller

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.

My Review

This novel was storytelling rich in setting and characters amidst days of the civil war.
The author writes with some wonderful prose and eloquently words in the right places reminiscent of the writings of Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy in style of writing at times. You will read sentences that really describe well the setting, the terrible and the beauty of the world contained within these pages. There was possibly an overdoing of descriptions at times but that does not lower its quality by any degree in being a wonderful read. Blood Meriden by Cormac McCarthy comes to mind when reading this historical drama.  The tale was tragic and unrelenting in its struggle for better days over very grim and unforgiving circumstances. There was a lasting mark left on me of the characters contained their sheer courage, bravery and heart long lasting.  I found that one main protagonist had more than 9 lives of a cat, so to speak, as he manages to walk away from death many times.
Enjoy this fine example of storytelling with lyrical beauty.

 

 

 

“He lived beside the sea in the far northwest corner of these United States, and in the nights before he left he sat before his tiny shack watching the ocean under the night blue sky. Sea grass sawed and rustled in a cool, salty wind. A few drops of rain fell upon his face, wetting his beard and softly sizzling in the fire. This light rain but the after-rain of the lasts nights storm, or perhaps the harbinger of harder rains yet to come. The shack creaked softy with the wind while the tide hissed all along the dark and rocky shore. The moon glowed full form amidst the rain clouds, casting a hard light that slid like grease atop the water. The old man watched ivory curlers far to sea rise and subside noiselessly. Within the bounds of his little cove stood sea stacks weirdly canted from wind and waves. Tide gnawed remnants of antediluvian islands and eroded coastal headlands, the tall stones stood monolithic and forbidding, hoarding the shadows and softly shining purple, ghost blue in the moon and ocean colored gloom. Grass and wind-twisted scrub pine stood from the stacks, and on the smaller, flatter, seaward stones lay seals like earthen daubs of paint upon the night’s darker canvas. From that wet dark across the bay came the occasional slap of a flipper upon the water that echoed into the round bowl of the cove, and the dog, as it always did, raised its scarred and shapeless ears.”

 

“Far to the west, where the night was fast upon the ocean’s rim, the clouds had blown back and the old man could see stars where they dazzled the water. He breathed and rocked before the fire. His thought, beyond his control, went from painful recollections of women and family to worse remembrance of war because it had been his experience that one often led to the other- stoking its fires until there was not a man who could resist and, upon yielding, survive as a man still whole.”

 

“Abel stood beside the fire and watched the ocean move constantly, restlessly, in the outer dark. He looked at the stars that glistened hard and cold through gaps in the clouds and at the hazy moon behind. He looked at the dog where it lay sleeping by the snapping fire. Older now, it tired easily and slept hard, its long legs moving restlessly as it gave soft little puppy-barks from its dreams. Abel watched it for a time, then shed his clothes and stood naked, pale and ghostly in the shadows.

  He started across the wrecked driftwood toward the sand, picking his way along carefully. The tide seethed and rattled along the shore. It sprayed and echoed on the stones in the deeper waters and slapped against itself still farther out, under the moon as it moved beyond the clouds, where men could not dwell nor prosper. Beds of kelp, like inky stains upon the general darkness, bobbed on the swells while mounds of it, beached days past, lay quietly afester with night-becalmed sand fleas near the driftwood bulwarks. Glancing to the little river that cut sharply and dark through the sand, Abel saw the largest wolf he’d ever seen, standing in the current watching him.”

 

“His own grief was nothing but suffering, then passing through sorrow, rage. A black gall. Nights steeped in drink. Days of hungry wandering. Begging, petty thievery, and a single wretched night of a full moon passed out facedown in some churchyard’s grass. And when war did come, Abel Truman found himself in North Carolina with a regiment of Tar Heels for no other reason than that was where he had happened to be. And then all the rest happened, and finally, ten and twenty years in a one-room shack on the shore of the cold, grey Pacific, and his life was blown. Passed him by like a slow, tannic river easing out to sea. He’d eked out a meager life beside the waters and when he felt he’d finally had enough he’d walked into the ocean and the ocean had cast him back.”

 

 

“A stillness now, as if the world were waiting, breathless. The wind did not blow and the day grew warm. They slept that night on the banks of some nameless stream for the cool of the water in the close, hot dark, and when they rose they could hear a distant, tearing sound as of a sturdy piece of canvas ripped lengthwise. It came banging intermittently through the springtime air all morning and in the afternoon the tearing became a roar and the roar was constant. They could hear shouting. They stopped on arise on the outskirts of a four-building village that lay abandoned. The Wilderness was before them, studded with powder smoke that rose, slow, malignant, until the sun was darkened and the shadows grew long.”

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 27 September 2012

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