A father pursues his headstrong son through the American frontier.
M.I.T. research scientist Iagnemma (On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction: Stories, 2003) delivers a debut novel, set in 1844, that juxtaposes the journey of a son, Elisha Stone, with that of his detached father, Reverend William, both too emotionally inarticulate to find a middle ground. Sixteen-year-old Elisha has a quick wit, a strong back and an intellectual curiosity that has forced him to abandon his faith. By the time we meet him, the budding scientist has left his Massachusetts home to join a nebulous expedition into the Michigan territory. At the heart of the mission are two men—treasure hunter Silas Brush and professor George Tiffin, who has a theory that the Chippewas and other Native-American tribes are descended from the lost tribes of Israel. Leveled by the death of Elisha’s mother and crippled by a physical ailment, Reverend William sets out to find his son and beg absolution for his sins. But for the righteous father, leaving civilization is akin to stepping into the abyss. Meanwhile, the son is playing savior to a tempestuous runaway bride, Susette Morel, who would rather take her chances with the Indians than remain with her abusive husband in Detroit. Buoyed by a cast of peculiar collaborators, the two Stones roll toward a clash of faiths deep in uncharted territory. A hesitant beginning and the understated period dialect stultify the book to some degree, but Iagnemma’s robust command of language creates an equilibrium between the two narratives, marrying the poetry of science with the promise of salvation.
A languid frontier drama that weighs scientific inquisitiveness against the depths of human sorrow.