Holly at Bippity Boppity Books gave Wilderness by Lance Weller such a strong review that I knew I had to read it. I’ve been trying to use my library more, partly because I tend to READ the books I take out of the library. They have to be returned. When I buy books I tend to toss them onto the pile and who knows when they’ll ever get read. To my delight, I got my hands on a copy of Wilderness fairly quickly.
Thirty-five years later, living a solitary life (solitary except for his well-loved dog) in a shack on the Pacific coast, Abel comes to understand that he is dying from a slowly progressive illness. One morning he decides to return home to die and he begins the long dangerous trek, taking only a few provisions, his rifle, and his dog.
Along the way he runs into two evil men who want to steal his dog and who would have no qualms about killing him to do so. But Abel is a tough old man. And surprisingly lucky. Abel’s path crosses that of the would-be thieves more than once during the course of his journey with increasingly violent results. Other settlers and wanderers are also caught up in the crossfire. As Abel interacts with them, the reader is given deeper and deeper insight into the type of man he is.
Interspersed with the story of Abel’s current day journey are chapters detailing memories of his past–his wartime experiences. The war is what shaped him, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. And then, going even farther back, Abel is forced to dredge up thoughts of the tragic loss that preceded the war.
Wilderness is a moving story. Abel’s life is portrayed with sensitivity and depth. He’s a good man but flawed, and journeying with him is time well spent.
This is a debut novel by an author who has previously published award-winning short stories. So read it with the expectation of literary historical fiction. At times, I found the writing style overwhelmed the story–as if the point had drifted away from what was being said to how prettily it was being said, and I found myself skimming ahead to where it would get back on track again. But most of the time there is a good balance between fine writing and a compelling story-line. I had to keep reading to see where Abel was going.