As a reader, I'm looking for an authentic experience — emotionally, intellectually, sensually. I want full immersion. I want to be inside the story completely with no thought of myself. I want the novel to hold me mercilessly in its clutches, to knock me around, to have its way with me, even if that means a little discomfort, or even a lot of discomfort.
Here's three great adventure stories that fit the bill:
The Call Of The Wild
By Jack London, paperback 160 pages, Puffin, list price: $4.49
The Call of the Wild by Jack London was the first book to completely own me. The experience was cold and brutal and visceral, and totally exhilarating. London put me inside the fur of a dog for over 100 pages, and when I came out the other side, bitten, hobbled, half-starving and totally alert, I was a different person, as though I was awakened, like Buck, the canine protagonist, is awakened by the cruelty and sublime beauty of the Yukon wilderness. London was a genius storyteller, a master of suspense, and aside from the occasionally overwrought sentence or grandiose sentiment, he knew how to get out of the reader's way and tell an utterly consuming story. I revisit The Call of the Wild every few years, sometimes by firelight, just to lose myself and awaken the wilderness of my spirit.
The Wilding: A Novel
By Benjamin Percy, hardcover, 288 pages, Graywolf Press, list price: $23
Benjamin Percy's The Wilding has garnered favorable comparisons to James Dickey's spare masterpiece, Deliverance, and for good reason. Both novels are set in wild locales on the verge of domestication, both unfold over the course of a weekend, and both novels explore the nature of what we call wilderness — environmentally, geographically and spiritually. However, Percy's novel employs a wider lens, utilizing numerous and fascinating points-of-view, to tell a story that is at turns chilling, illuminating, super-creepy, and above all, adventurous. Like London, Percy puts us inside fur, though of an altogether different variety — you'll have to read The Wilding to understand just what kind of fur I'm talking about.
McTeague: A Story Of San Francisco
By Frank Norris, paperback, 384 pages, Oxford University Press, list price: $11.95
Though it will get under your skin completely, the first two-thirds of Frank Norris' McTeague are not exactly what you might consider an adventure. A bumbling dentist in turn-of-the-century San Francisco drinks steam beer, stuffs his mouth with a billiard ball, and marries his best friend's cousin. But once Mac kills his wife, steals her fortune, and runs for Mexico, the adventure is on, and the conclusion is one of the great endings in all of literature. There is a gorgeous brutality to Norris' prose which is perfectly harmonious with the brutality of his tale. Norris dresses down language like he dresses down humanity: unsentimentally. At his best, his sentences can pulverize language like bones into dust. But what is most spectacular about McTeague is how the atmosphere consumes you, how when the story is over, you feel like you lived it.
The Call of the Wild, The Wilding and McTeague all pit wild western settings against their protagonists, invite moral and philosophical speculation, and above all, offer the sort of gripping, heart-thumping, skin-crawling adventure that will dominate you as a reader.
Jonathan Evison is the author of All About Lulu and West of Here. Born in San Jose, Calif., he now lives on an island in Western Washington.
Three Books... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva with production assistance from Rose Friedman, Lena Moses-Schmitt and Amelia Salutz.