I’ll start with this: WILDERNESS by Lance Weller is THE book I’ve been waiting for. In fact, if I could give it more than five stars, I would. Without a doubt, it is among my all-time favorite reads, so rich is it in sensory detail and drinkable prose.
The title of the book, alone, spoke to my natural sensitivities: Wilderness. You learn early on that the title has double meaning and a symbolic significance that influences the story of Abel Truman … an old man alone, reclusive, with no one in the world but his aging dog. A surviving soldier of the Confederacy in the Civil War, he fought in The Battle of the Wilderness and continues to fight that battle daily in his own mind. He simultaneously battles against the wilds of Washington state’s coastal lands, and with dubious thugs. But along the pathways of his life, he witnesses, time and again, the kindness of humanity, its promise of hope.
Perhaps all you need to know about this book is that it makes you feel; from your heart down to the marrow of your bones, you will feel as you read the story of Abel Truman, a name befitting an able man, a man true to his beliefs even if he doesn’t quite know it himself.
You will be awed, horrified and inspired by the realities of the Battle of the Wilderness, as seen through Abel’s flashbacks (Weller’s ability to paint lasting impressions of the war’s stories of loyalty and bedlam is beyond explanation and chill-inspiring).
I loved the complex, non-linear structure of this novel as well and am still awestruck that the author was able to thread so many stories and characters together, connecting them all to a pinnacle at the end. So impressive.
For readers who loved THE ORCHARDIST and BURIAL RITES, this book has equally evocative descriptions of a harsh but beautiful earth that interacts with its characters in ways heartbreaking and uplifting. I give this book my highest endorsement. If you love literary fiction with poetic sentences and setting-as-character, this is the book you must read this year. I honestly was reluctant to finish the book – and purposely stopped at the end a few times – because I just couldn’t bear to part with the natural setting and its sensory vibrancy. But most of all, I knew I would miss Abel, such a complex, wonderful, achingly sad character. And I do miss him. Still. He – and his dog – and the other characters will stay with me for a long, long while.