In Birdseye’s oddly compelling fiction debut, a father-son hiking trip goes violently wrong.
Josh Donaldson is convinced—browbeaten, really—by his charismatic, literate, slightly unbalanced father to go for a long, running hike in Oregon’s wild and remote Cedar Ridge. Dad has always been an outsize figure in Donaldson’s life, writing long unpublished novels and constantly challenging his family to unconventional thinking. His force of personality overcomes Donaldson’s reservations about hiking and running in a wilderness area unknown to both of them. Once they reach their starting point, these reservations are only deepened by warnings from locals, who point out both the dangers of the terrain—“The woods are always dangerous. Damn foolish city folk are always comin’ up here and gettin’ lost”—and the presence in the woods of a major drug runner known as the Columbian. But Dad gets his way, and soon the two of them are encountering the beauties of the Oregon backcountry, beautifully described by Birdseye. Displaying virtually no hiking or camping skills, Dad instead waxes poetic at every turn, reciting Keats upon seeing a swollen mountain stream, which prompts a doubtful Donaldson to reflect that the water seemed “too real, and far too perilous to be poetic, except perhaps in a poem depicting death by means of forces beyond reason.” Inevitably, the two encounter the Columbian’s men, and violence erupts; Birdseye’s formerly ruminative narrative pace sharpens considerably once father and son confront the Columbian himself, who turns out to be oddly similar to Dad in both his wide reading and his penchant for crackpot philosophizing. “The fate of mankind ultimately doomed to perish from the cold is of no consequence,” the Columbian says. “Taken to heart it is a tragedy of unendurable proportions.” Dad is wounded, and Donaldson is certain he’s going to die, but even in these fairly standard hikers-in-peril sections, Birdseye raises his plot above the commonplace with detailed and quite touching depiction of Dad’s loss of confidence in his ebullient view of life—and of Donaldson’s loss of confidence in Dad.
A moving adventure story about the volatility of the father-son bond.