Monday, November 22, 2010

The Wilding by Benjamin Percy

Benjamin Percy was here for the Nature of Words a few years ago. He resides elsewhere, but has written short stories and now a novel set in Central Oregon. Percy grew up hunting in Central Oregon and that tends to be a big focus in his stories. In The Wilding a father, son, grandfather hunting trip takes some strange turns.

Justin, the father, reluctantly agrees to go hunting with his dad and brings along his twelve year old son. Justin, in his everyday life, is an English teacher at Mountain View High School. He is not getting along that great with his wife Karen and she’s rather relieved to see them go for the weekend. They head out to Echo Canyon in the Ochocos; it’s the last weekend before destruction of the area begins for a golf course community.

And, then, this is where the book becomes two distinct stories. One story follows the hunting party weekend, which rapidly deteriorates, especially when they realize something is hunting them. In juxtaposition to this Karen is simultaneously being stalked. It is interesting to compare the possible dangers in the forest to those in the city of Bend.

Here Percy captures how Justin can go from mild-mannered English teacher to exultant hunter throwing around deer viscera:

“Justin feels gripped by a reckless idea. The darkness of the woods and the thrill of the hunt and the wildness of his father have torn away some protective seal inside him; he cannot control himself. For a moment, just a moment, he forgets about his mortgage payment, his shaggy lawn, his Subaru and the groaning noise it makes when he turns left, his desk and the pile of ungraded papers waiting on it. All of that has gone someplace else, replaced by an urge, a wildness.”

The Wilding is a worthwhile read. It gives some insight into hunting, something I have never been tempted to do, and am even less likely to do after reading this. It also examines a culture shift that is going on in the west, where previously open wild areas are being turned into havens for the wealthy. I also reviewed and enjoyed Percy’s short story collection The Language of Elk.

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