Book Review: 'The Wilding'

Benjamin Percy's first novel, The Wilding, deals with the tensions between three generations of men on a family hunting trip in Oregon.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Okay, to the wilds now of the Pacific Northwest. That's the backdrop for Benjamin Percy's new book, "The Wilding." The story focuses on the relationship between fathers and sons, long a staple of literature. Though it's familiar territory, reviewer Alan Cheuse says Percy mines it well.

ALAN CHEUSE: At the core of this powerfully written first novel about a father-son-grandson hunting and fishing expedition into the mountains of central Oregon stands an old theme in American fiction: the test of ordinary folks against the wilderness, though this wilderness is about to be stripped of trees and smoothed out in preparation for the construction of a fancy subdivision, and the patriarch of the family trio, a hard-drinking contractor named Paul, has been hired to build part of it.

Paul and his school-teacher son Justin and Justins young son Graham head out into the woods knowing that its the end of this wilderness as they know it, though theres a ferocious and deadly menace still lurking in the woods which will push them all to their limits.

At home in Bend, Oregon, in their comfortable little subdivision, Justins lovely but distant wife Karen spends her days and nights unknowingly in another sort of menacing environment as a crazed Iraq War veteran circles closer and closer to his prey.

I could have done without this subplot, but Percy writes a clean, clear, muscular sentence. Listen to how he describes father, son and grandson returning to the camp after killing and dressing their first deer of the hunt: The dried blood makes a gruesome brown lacework of their skin so that they hardly recognize each other when they return to camp carrying their insulated packs laden with quartered meat.

And he delineates his characters with a knife-sharp psychological edge. If he'd only focused on the stark and engrossing story of those three men, old and young, and their venture into the deep woods, this book would have come awfully close to being a perfect first novel.

KELLY: The book is "The Wilding" by Benjamin Percy. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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