The fate of the planet and the burdens shouldered by people paranormally attuned to its rhythms are the themes explored in this lyrical, uneven fiction.
The primary of two subtly connected stories focuses on Moira Robbins, a young Virginia wife and mother who’s uprooted when her husband Paul, a scientist working in the alternative energy field, gets a high-profile job with an ambitious California company. Moira’s longing for her home country’s sights and sounds manifests itself in increasingly dreamlike states during which she “sees” into other people’s lives. Meanwhile, back near the Robbins’s former home, engineer and spelunker Randy Seigle explores locally storied “Murder Hole,” which, he believes, must be connected to a cave whose entrance has never been found. Hankla crosscuts efficiently between the two stories, suggesting further unexplored dimensions in Randy’s primal wish “to be like the earth itself,” and painstakingly connecting Moira’s disturbing visions with her five-year-old son Ian’s fixation on Native American folklore, and with the somewhat vatic “Legend of the Turtle People” related in a book she possesses. As Moira’s psychic abilities turn her outward from self-concern and involve her in the search for two women campers missing in the Mojave Desert, Randy learns from a taciturn elderly farmer where to seek for what is ostensibly hidden in the unfound cavern—and the unfolding wisdom of the Turtle People, contained in prophecies of death and regeneration, turns Moira and Paul toward the path they must follow. There’s lovely stuff here (e.g., an especially beautiful description of lovemaking during pregnancy), but The Land Between (perhaps unduly influenced by Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams) simply has too many burners flaming and pots boiling.
By no means a failure, but this potentially fascinating second novel (after A Blue Moon in Poorwater, 1988) doesn’t add up to the sum of its arresting parts.