A Modern Wilderness Saga | Review of “The Wolf Road” by Beth Lewis (2016) Crown Publishing

wolf

Thanks to Luanne at “A Bookworm’s World” for bringing this book to my attention! (Link)

For many of us in North America who descended from European immigrants know the love they had for literature dealing with the North-American hinterland.  Those stories of frontiers and beginning anew hit a nerve with them as they came to the wilds of the “New World.”  But as time passed and we ourselves matured, we realized that many of those stories were a somewhat fantastic and unreal. So it was great to find Beth Lewis has given us a story set in the wilderness that is: placed a bit in the future, shows the hardships and dealings of people in the past PLUS the emotions of our modern age. In short, The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis is a great piece of literature.

Page 6 –  The Beginning, or Close as You Gonna Get

When the thunderhead comes, drumming through the sky, you take cover, you lock your doors, and you find a place to pray because if it finds you, there ain’t no going back. When the thunderhead came to Ridgeway, my clapboard town, I had nowhere to hide. Seven years old I was and screaming up something fierce at my nana. She wanted me to go collect pine resin for the lamps. Said it made ’em burn with a pretty smell. I told her pretty is for fools and I didn’t want no pine smelling up my house.

“My house, girl,” she said, “you just a guest here till your parents come back. Pray that it be soon.”

I think I had a different name back then. Don’t remember Nana every calling me Elka.

I told her to go spit seeds and started howling.

“That mouth of yours is black as the goddamn devil’s” she shouted in that tone what meant I was in for a beating. Saw her reaching for her walking stick. Had me welts the shape a’ that stick fresh on my back.

Lewis has given us here a classic saga here written in the vernacular. Readers follow Elka as she is literally ripped away from the last contact of her family  – her Nana – and dumped into the wilderness where is found and raised by “Trapper.” She learns the ways of the woods – tracking, hunting and survival techniques and she is grateful to the solitary hunter. But as she learns the ugly truth about her caretaker, she runs away and he is fast on her trail to find her.

Page 52 – Top of the Ridge

I always figured I could run faster’n any fella in the Mussa Valley, sure as hell could outrun Trapper, but no matter how fast your legs can carry you, there ain’t no way you’re outrunning a six-hundred-pound brown bear. I put everything I had into my legs, making ’em hurt, making ’em jump over logs and slip ‘tween close trees. Guess that bear didn’t like me touching his rubbing tree or drinking out of his river.

I know I shouldn’t have run. I know it like I know the sky is blue and snow is cold. You run, bear gonna chase you. But shit, that bear was big and it came up on me quick. White foam poured out of his mouth and I felt his breath on my back, hot and heavy and too damn near. All that water I just drank came out my skin in sweat and panic and I felt my blood drying up and slowing down.

Dense trees and brush slowed that lumbering beast I gained a bit of ground on him. My lungs burnt like smelting fire. Hottest you can get. Turned all the water straight to vapor. I couldn’t see nothing but strokes of mushed-up green and brown. All I knew was the thundering bear. I felt every footstep shake the earth and send critters dashing for cover. Felt every roar vibrating in my chest but I just kept running.

Then I saw something up ahead that scared the spit out a’ me.

A clearing.

Lewis uses a great mix of emotion and drama in this story. This was the first time in a long while I felt compelled to sit down with a book in a quiet corner and read it from cover to cover. And I was glad I did too. The story felt real and relevant to me with a hint of mystic to keep me reading.

Page 87 Somethin’ Like Paradise

Wolf cam up as normal but when he spotted me so close he growled low and rumbling. I figured that was more a Hey, what you want? Rather than an I’m gonna have your head. This was new territory for us both and I weren’t in the mood to get bit. When he figured I weren’t after his dinner and I weren’t about to skin him for bedding, hes started crunching that rabbit head. He didn’t take his yellow eyes off me, his big tongue lapped up all them guts and brain like it was separate from the rest of him. Weren’t no ferocity. This he was curious about me. Maybe saw me less as one a’ them human hunters wanting his fur and more as a member of his pack.

Beth Lewis has certainly given us back the joy that our elders found in wilderness adventures stories with her book The Wolf Road. It is rich with emotion and filled with realistic detail. It was a pleasure to read and a great piece of literature. And I will gladly add my voice for the call to see more from this author.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for The Wolf Road

Link to Beth Lewis’ website

 

 

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