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10th January
written by Steph

Playing a bit of catch-up, The Wilding is the last book I need to review from 2010. I read the bulk of it while up in the winter wonderland that is Minnesota, which seemed like the perfect setting for a novel that is largely set in the great outdoors in the very heart of nature. I must admit that were it not for Indiespensible, I never would have heard of this book, never mind have picked it up, but this is why I love that program! It’s constantly exposing me to books that would otherwise fly under my radar or not immediately appeal. This was a ripping read, full of plenty of suspense and tension so I’m definitely glad I read it. The Wilding tells the story of the Caves family; a family that is slowly deteriorating. Through interleaved chapters we follow Justin, his wife Karen, his son Graham, and his father Paul as they navigate the frustrations of modern life and ever-increasing hostilities that bubble up deep from within. When Justin and Graham and head out into the wilds of Oregon on a hunting trip with Paul, they have no idea the terrors that await them as they leave civilization behind and enter into the heart of the savage wilderness. Over the course of the weekend, the three are stalked by a mysterious beast in a game of cat and mouse that could easily turn deadly. Back at home, things are not much better as Karen mulls over her marital unhappiness, contemplates an affair, and learns that suburbia is no protection against things that go bump in the night. So, it may come as a shock to some of you, but a book that ostensibly centers around a hunting trip and being menaced by a monstrous beast is not exactly the kind of book that would normally call to me. And yet, I have to say that I really found this book very compelling and intriguing! The writing was really fluid and managed to bridge the difficult chasm between poetic and straightforward to just the right extent. A smooth read, if you will. One thing that is not surprising is that I do like a dysfunctional family story, and that was present in spades, so it was really interesting to spend some time with the Caves and watch their not-so-quiet decline. But the thing that I found most fascinating about the book was the rather ingenious way that Percy uses the contrast of nature vs. civilization as a means of exploring the personal lives of his characters. It may seem trite to say “man enters the wild and GOES WILD”, but Percy handled the topic with a lot more aplomb, because it wasn’t so much about people going out and acting crazy and forgetting societal norms (though there certainly is some of that), but it was more about unleashing simmering aggressions. Yes, freedom of nature, blah, blah, blah… I make it seem a lot less subtle and deft than it was accomplished in the novel, it was really rather clever. There was of course the more obvious theme of the issues involving deforestation and ruination of nature, with the point that there is a reason why most of us no longer live in the wild, and the woods are all well and good for a weekend, but let’s not romanticize them and pretend that things are really all that simpler there. It perhaps is apt to throw in a mention of the old trope “You can run, but you can’t hide”, and that goes not only for hulking creatures, but also for your troubles. Really, the only thing I didn’t like about the book was its climax. It just got far too cinematic, but in a Michael Bays Transformers kind of way. Just too over the top outlandish and ridiculous for my tastes, like Percy had been really holding himself back for the bulk of the novel, showing all this sensitive restraint, and then it was all too much for him so he just let go of the reins and let the narrative run out of control. It’s clear that the story is building up to some big throwdown, but this was just almost cartoonish in its scope. The epilogue portion seemed a bit maudlin, perhaps, though perhaps that just comes from my bias against epilogues (I can’t think of a single book at this moment that I really feel has benefited from one)… I think they are simply too convenient for my liking, tying everything up and hammering home points that readers might otherwise have to infer from the main text itself. Overally, though, a really good and surprising read. Definitely worth reading if you want a book that is high on tension and will have the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. This is why my one loophole to the “no new books in 2011” is that I will continue with my Indiespensible subscription, because I simply can’t bear the thought of missing out on these installments. The books are always so interesting and provocative and aesthetically speaking, I just can’t resist them! Just thought I’d put that out there so there are no cries of outrage when I post my next Indiespensible loot post! I wouldn’t want anyone to think I had caved so easily (and so soon) into the new year! Rating: 3.5 out of 5


  1. 01/10/2011

    This does sound rather interesting, and, I might add, one I have never heard of before. I like the idea that it explores why it’s not a good idea to romanticize living in the wild, and I also have to admit that the dysfunctional family element appeals as well. Heck, you even make me curious about the strange and overworked climax of the book. Yes, this is going on my list right now, so thanks for the very compelling and enthusiastic review. It sounds like a book I would love!

  2. 01/11/2011

    I love it when a book surprised me like that. It’s too bad about the climax, though! I can’t say no to a good dysfunctional family story either, so you have me very intrigued.

  3. 01/12/2011

    A good, useful epilogue.. humm… I’m sure there’s one! There’s a love-or-hate feeling about Harry Potter’s one. For me it was worth it just for knowing the name of one of the kids.

  4. 01/12/2011

    @ zibilee: I recall that you enjoyed the documentary Grizzly Man as much as Tony and I did, which is another great example of how man + nature does not always equal a perfect combination. Same goes for Into the Wild… It’s not like this seems like an important lesson that people need to keep learning, and yet, apparently they do!
    @ Nymeth: Yes, dysfunctional family stories are my bread and butter. I think Tolstoy was dead on when he said that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way… I just always find them so interesting!
    @ Alex: I actually just finished reading The Weird Sisters which has an epilogue that I didn’t hate, so that’s something! I appreciated what Rowling was doing with the HP epilogue but I thought it was a tad too saccharine.

  5. 01/15/2011

    I like the sound of this one. I do like novels set in the great outdoors and the creepy element sounds good. Adding to the tbr.

  6. 01/17/2011

    @ Nicola: I’m not really outdoorsy, so I didn’t know how this would work for me. I am happy to say it worked really well! A good, fast read!

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