OFF THE BEATEN PATH by Joseph Barbato

OFF THE BEATEN PATH

Stories of Place
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KIRKUS REVIEW

In a follow-up to their 1995 collection, Heart of the Land, Nature Conservancy staffers Barbato and Weinerman Horak here assemble 13 original stories by American writers (some of whom were included in the previous anthology) who mix their own magic with that of the Conservancy lands they were invited to visit. After a foreword by Barbara Kingsolver, who describes her affinity for wild places by sharing her feelings at having a bobcat unexpectedly approach her writing-desk window, the tales begin with Howard Norman’s “The Chauffeur,” a quietly compelling view of relationships in which a San Francisco driver’s romance with a biologist working at an elk refuge near Point Reyes National Seashore is disrupted by the death of the woman who brought them together—an elderly Japanese woman who traveled weekly from the city to Point Reyes in the hope of glimpsing a rare white pelican. “The Half-skinned Steer,” E. Annie Proulx recounts a lonely old man’s return after decades to the Wyoming ranch where he was born, only to face death in a snowstorm. And in “Hush,” Eric Lustbader gives us a Florida woman transformed by an encounter with a brown bear in the Alaskan wilderness; as a result, she finally comes to terms with her best friend’s suicide during their adolescence, and also opens herself to the sexuality she’d for so long denied. A lighter look at the significance of place is provided by Rita Mae Brown in “Early Lessons,” depicting two wrangling sisters on a futile Chesapeake Bay fishing trip, as observed by one’s six-year-old daughter. These and similar offerings, along with a few more straightforward “save the wilderness” tales, comprise a diverse, rewarding assortment—and an impressive testament to the important role played by nature in inspiring writers to create stories that touch us all.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-86547-530-X
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1998