A novel melds wilderness adventures and family history.
Tom Olsen’s ex-wife showing up at his doorstep unannounced is certainly unpleasant, especially on the eve of a backpacking trip to visit his grandfather’s grave, deep in the Olympic Peninsula. But her arriving in the middle of a storm with a granddaughter, Sarah, he never knew he had is something else entirely. An angry, sullen teenager with an instinctual hatred for “the total boonies,” Sarah seems to be more than Tom can handle, even before friend William “Walleye” and his daughter, Myra, suggest that they go ahead with the trek and bring Sarah along. Once on the trail, Tom can’t help but get caught up in the memories Sarah evokes of his marriage and his now-dead daughter—the teen’s mother—Becky. Sarah even vanishes for a time and reappears, coming back with a strange apparent connection to the land and a head full of stories beyond what any of them are familiar with. In a place rife with history, spirits, and the cultural memories of the local Native American tribes, the hikers have more to discover than any of them realize. What at first seems to be a rote fish-out-of-water story quickly morphs into something more as Sheldon’s (Fat Chance, 2006, etc.) novel takes shape. In some hands, the tale’s mix of spirituality and the harsh realities of life in rural and Native American communities would be awkward or off-putting to read, but this book carries the blend well, creating something greater than the sum of its parts. The complex histories and motivations of each character only add to the atmosphere, allowing the reader to see and empathize with their many-layered feelings. The prose is overly minimalist at times, but once readers get into the story, they should appreciate the bare-bones style: “After two weeks on the ship, it was heaven to sink into the brine, lean back, look at the sky above. Across lounged a couple, all over each other. They were both large. Three younger women were in the smaller pools, laughing.”
An intricate backpacking tale rife with secrets and hidden depths.