Hall (The Beautiful Indifference, 2013, etc.) explores the emotional turmoil following a wildlife biologist's return home to Lowther Valley in England's Cumbria.
Rachel may be a native Cumbrian, but she’s dwelt for a decade near Idaho’s Chief Joseph Peak, monitoring the wolf reintroduction, when she receives word from England that her mother is fading. She’s also received a generous offer from Thomas Pennington, Earl of Annerdale, who wants her to reintroduce wolves into a controlled environment on his vast Cumbrian estate. During a visit home, she makes a spare reconciliation with her prickly mother and rejects the earl’s offer; then she’s back in Idaho and finds herself pregnant by a friend and co-worker. That discovery comes simultaneously with word of her mother’s suicide, and Rachel decides to accept Pennington’s offer. She intends to have an abortion in Cumbria, but "delaying, ruminating, caught between states," she chooses motherhood. Telling the story in simple, crystalline sentences and punctuation-free dialogue, Hall peppers the narrative with diamond-hard phrases: a wolf’s eyes are "keen as gold, sorrowless"; an old-growth Cumbrian forest is a "dark old republic." Centering the story are the wolves: "ghost-like, elegant, frivolous"; "never without enemies, they are too successful a creature, too good at what they do." Hall also deftly carves characters—Pennington’s troubled son, Leo, with "a crackle around him: an unwellness, an ill-mood"; and the entitled and privileged earl himself, "subject to different laws of gravity, that’s all." As Rachel, "a creature hostage to maternity, metamorphosed," plunges into love with her newborn son, the wolf project is sabotaged when a gate is deliberately left open, a point at which Hall binds the narrative threads together in a satisfying conclusion.
A gifted writer, Hall offers a compelling, lyrical story rich in observation and symbolism.