A literature professor muses on his relationship with the earth, in the latest from Native American author Glancy (Trigger Dance, 1990, etc.).
Like the glassy surface of a frozen north woods pond, the narrative is self-contained, quiet, and absolutely unrevealing. The unnamed man of the title teaches a class on the relationship of literature and the environment at the University of Minnesota-Morris, apparently one of the state school system’s more forgotten branches. As he’s driving down a cold highway one day, his car’s radiator overflows, forcing him to pull over and look for help. He’s struck by a sort of eco-epiphany when, without a second’s warning, he feels himself bound to the earth, able to feel it and hear it. Never the most social of guys—he’s the sort of professor whose door is technically always open but whose students find him inaccessible—he withdraws further into his own ruminations. Eager to discover more about the land he now feels linked to, he starts reading up on different disciplines like physics and folklore in an effort to put the flood of information now swamping his senses into some order. Needless to say, this is hardly the stuff of great drama, but Glancy has a beguiling way with her anonymous protagonist. His extreme passivity, even in the face of mounting pressures at work and the declining health of his parents, fits in smoothly with the glacial northern quiet of the setting, “the dark, cold Minnesota night that lasted a thousand years,” even if the parallels between his awakening sensibility and the fragile ecosystem around him are too bluntly drawn.
It’s over almost before you know it, but a haunting solitude blows through these pages, a true intimation of the serene and lonely plains that overcomes some of the rougher, unfinished elements here.