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Book Review: Wilderness
Published by Bloomsbury
Lance Weller, Wilderness

Wilderness is an achingly beautiful book. It takes you deep into the heart of a Civil War veteran scarred by nearly unspeakable tragedies and losses, and traces his ultimate redemption, which begins the moment a red-blond dog steps out of the forest and into the light of his cook fire.

When we meet this man, Abel Truman, he lives in a shack by the sea on the wild coast of Washington state, alone save for his dog. Old and sick, haunted by memories, he sets out to cross the mountains to make peace with his past. As Abel and the dog make their way through the rugged landscape, we learn Abel’s story in a series of flashbacks: the events that shattered his young family, the astonishing carnage of the Battle of the Wilderness, the former slave who nursed him afterward.

Once Abel begins his journey, his dog—and a mysterious wolf-dog who slips in and out of the tale—leads him in directions he never intended to take. The animals move him to take risks and reconsider his past, and to safeguard the life of an orphaned child.

Weller writes beautifully; his descriptions of the landscapes are nothing short of magnificent. So are his descriptions of the dogs, and of the bond between humans and dogs. The wolf-dog harries an elk, Weller writes, “low to the ground, moving like water over stones.” Abel, seeing that his dog is sick, feels “something break apart inside him.”

Though the book contains violence and cruelty, it has tenderness, kindness and wisdom at its core. It’s true and deep, funny and real. Ultimately, it evokes the essential ways that dogs weave their way into our lives: as sentinels, guides, companions and catalysts for crucial turning points in our journeys.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 74: Summer 2013
Katherine Griffin has written for the Los Angeles Times, Real Simple and Yoga Journal, among others. She teaches writing at UC Berkeley Extension.
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