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.
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway, the first I've ever won there. It was sent to me by Bloomsbury, and while a review is considered a courtesy for receiving the book for free, it was not required. But of course I'm going to review it!
I struggled with this book in the beginning, and almost gave up early on, but I stuck with it and by the end I was sobbing and gave it five out of five stars. After reading so many YA paranormal romance type books lately, most of which don't require much brain action (lol), it was quite a shift to get into this one. First, it's written in sort of an old time way. Words and word arrangements were not always as we'd know them to be in today's way of speaking and writing. It took a lot of mental discipline to focus on what was really being said. I'd skimmed some reviews of this book early on and one in particular sticks in my mind because the person was ranting about how the author didn't know a thing about grammar and couldn't form a proper sentence. Ha! Well, obviously that person is not familiar with 'old speak.' (I don't know how else to describe it. Hopefully you know what I mean.)
Another concern I had early on was that I have very strong emotions when it comes to animal stories. I knew this story was going to be about this man's relationship with his dog but when I read something very early on, just one part of one sentence in the prologue hinting at something, I almost quit reading on the spot. And when I did keep reading, I lived in fear of getting to part where I suspected something horrible and gut-wrenching would be happening. In the end, the part I feared was different and a much smaller thing than my mind had blown it up into but still ... I was sobbing. Not just 'Oh that's so sad,' tears as I continued reading, but put the book down absolute body shaking sobbing because by this point in the story you'd come to know the characters so well. It felt like I had taken part in it. Ohhh, it was sad but it was wonderful in a weird sort of way because it had tapped into such real emotion.
Anyway, the story does jump back and forth from 1864 when main character Abel was in the Civil War, to 1899 when Abel is living alone in the wilderness. Sometimes I found myself getting so caught up in the story that I had to stop and think of which year I was in. Usually it wasn't a problem because the war chapters had different characters and, obviously, different situations than the wilderness chapters. Later on though, when Abel is dealing with injuries and tragedies in both time periods, that's where it would momentarily become 'Wait, where am I?' But it was never enough to ruin the story.
There is brutality in this story. There is some scattered graphic detail. Overall though it is not a gore infested sickening book. Not at all. It is a war story in the 1800s and there were harsh realities back then. There were some disturbing choices that needed to be made. The author doesn't dwell on such things though, just presents them as they are and keeps the story moving. This style also doesn't lay out the whole story neat and simple as you read. You get bits of information about things, and get a few more bits about it as it comes again later in conversations or memories, and in the end you might only have enough info to let you form your own conclusion. Sometimes you're left wondering just as the characters are.
One silly problem I had while reading this book was that very early on the picture of main character Abel Truman that formed in my head was actor Danny Glover. That's just great and wonderful, and it stuck with me the whole entire book, but the problem is ... Abel was a white man. I tried to force Danny Glover out of my head by trying to imagine other actors such as Liam Neeson or Kevin Costner but it just never worked. That was funny to me and by the end I'd just given up and let Abel 'be' Danny Glover.
One other small problem I had was the wolf. What was the point of the wolf? It seems it was supposed to be symbolic of something, it almost seemed to be watching over the characters and leading in the paths they needed to go. I know this wolf was supposed to be the dog that got away from two thugs, but I just never understood why it was this sort of guardian angel, if it was real at all ... ?
So in the end, I loved this book. I'm glad I stuck with it. I highly recommend it but I also know it's just not for everyone. It is most definitely not a light and easy read. And you might be tempted to give up in the beginning, but stick with it! It is quite a deep and touching story.