Thursday, October 11, 2012

REVIEW: Wilderness by Lance Weller

Synopsis (from Amazon): 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.

My Thoughts: If you want the super short version of this review, here it is: This book is all kinds of awesome.  Buy it!  Now for the extended version.

Abel Truman has led an eventful life and having lived through the hell of the Civil War and the loss of everyone he loved, Abel has one final battle to fight that he knows he can't win-the battle with time.  Thirty years after his time as a Confederate Soldier in the war, Abel now lives a life of solitude in the sprawling wilderness of Washington with only a stray dog for a companion.  Abel realizes his health is deteriorating and makes the decision to journey over the mountains back east.  As he starts the journey with his dog following faithfully at his heels, Abel reflects on the life he has led (which is told via flashbacks) and reflects on all of the hardships he has suffered in his life as well as the people who have touched him.  Before the journey ends Abel has much more to endure as he crosses paths with two villainous men who steal his dog-a wrong which the broken old man vows to rectify at all costs.

Abel Truman is very high up on my list of favorite characters I have encountered in literature this year.  This man has been through so much in his life and there are times when he hasn't always made the best decisions or even given much thought to ones he probably should have (he fights for the South just because he happened to be in the South when the war broke out).  He goes through events that you would fully expect to break a human being-yet throughout it all he never manages to lose his humanity.  Although he becomes a grizzled, rough around the edges old man, he still has a care for those in need and these unexpected and tender displays are I think what really made me love this character. 

 What else does Wilderness have going for it?  It is told by an author who excels at imagery.  Weller is the kind of writer who takes a lot of sentences to convey what could be said in a few and I admit, initially I was a bit put off by the verbosity.  As I progressed further into the novel though I developed a strong appreciation of the highly detailed descriptions of Abel's world. The chapters containing Abel's experiences in the war truly conveyed what a horror it must have been-the hunger, loneliness, loss, fear,  shock of seeing your fellow soldiers slaughtered, and the potentially worse prospect of still being among the living and needing treatment from the battlefield doctors-I could picture every nuance of these battles through Abel's eyes.

Wondering if there are any downsides to this book?  Well, there are two if you can call them that.  One is that I wish this book was longer because even though I loved the main character there were a few secondary characters who I would had loved to see more of throughout the novel.  The second is the sadness I experienced by the end of this book and that those feelings stayed with me for a good long while after I was done reading it.  I suppose in a way this is actually a positive because good or bad, there have been relatively few books that have elicited such a strong reaction from me. I'm thinking this is going to make the top ten list for the year.  Wilderness is Lance Weller's debut novel and if it was this good I can't wait to see what he does with his next one.

 I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


  1. I am SO going to get this -- your short review sold me!! Plus, your 'downsides' are the kind of downsides I like -- I neeed this one, now!

  2. I've been eyeing this on Amazon Vine, but have been so afraid of getting one more ARC *have to read* that I passed. Off to check the library.

  3. Lovely review. I haven't heard of this one but will have to keep my eyes open for it now.

  4. I have this on my shelf...I am going to need to "dust" it off and get reading. :)

    Very nice post.


    Silver's Reviews

  5. What a wonderful review. This one is going on my list!