The quest for a long-absent father drives a three-generation, profoundly masculine story of wounded souls set in the Canadian hinterland.
Although the novel’s three female characters do contribute to events, Canadian writer Wilson’s debut is inescapably a book about the menfolk, in particular two tough, taciturn types, Cecil West and Archer Cole, whose desires and families sometimes overlap. West’s heart attack precipitates the narrative by summoning graduate-student grandson Alan to his bedside for the job of finding Jack, Cecil’s son/Alan’s father, who disappeared when the boy was a year old. The storytelling shifts, unpredictably, between Alan’s and Archer’s perspectives. Decades earlier, Cole, a decorated Vietnam vet, crossed into Canada with his daughter Linnea to avoid a second tour of duty and got shot in the leg by Jack West. So began a friendship between Cecil and Archer and, later, briefly, a relationship between Jack and Linnea. Now, Alan’s apocalyptic journey through bush fires to find Jack is spliced with Archer’s reminiscences. There’s violence (a subplot involves an American nemesis figure), feuds (Archer had an affair with Cecil’s fiancee), sentiment (Alan’s relationship has faded, and his dog dies) and action (fights, flames, shootings). Journey’s end is a conglomeration of booze and restoration.
Too many beatings and too much philosophical brooding bog down an overextended story straining for elegiac and epic heights.