Lynette G. Esposito

In the Distance by Hernan Diaz

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By Lynette G. Esposito

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The fictional novel, In the Distance by Hernan Diaz, Coffee House Press , offers a unique twist on the old western theme.  The tale is presented in a 256 page book detailing perceptions of a legend-making main character who speaks little English in an English-speaking landscape.
           
The main character, Swedish immigrant, Hakan Soderstom, arrives in America with his brother to begin a new more prosperous life than the poor farming existence they lived in rural Sweden.. The brothers are separated enroute and Hakan ends up in California but believes his brother is in New York.  The irony of “go west young man” is reversed as Harkan struggles to go East. 
 
Hakan is an innocent in a strange land. He has weak communication skills because of the language barrier.  The lingual misunderstandings propel the storyline forward and give logical credence to some of Hakan’s wild adventures.
 
Diaz writes with a controlled stream of conscious that makes surreal episodes blend with reality
 
                After some pounding, the dry sinews from the larger animals split
               into fibers that Hakan separated and used as thread to stitch together
              disparate patches of cured leather with his surgical needles.
 
Imagine a man alone in the wilderness, catching, killing, curing and sewing.  It seems only a character larger than life, a legendary man, could accomplish this to survive. Yet, the image of using the fibers as thread gives such a logical spin to the process that the reader is pulled right into the scene and believes the actions of this character.
 
The story uses the universal theme of one lonely man’s survival in a wicked and dangerous world as he struggles in his journey to find the brother he loves. It is an epic journey in which Diaz presents his main character as a simple man whose adventures lead those around him to perceive him as so extraordinary, he becomes mythical. 
 
The novel is constructed in 24 chapters numerically named.  It progresses forward through telling incidents as Hakan matures from a naïve boy to an experienced man who survives his lack of money and extreme loneliness.  Hakan never loses sight of his desire to find his brother as his journey leads him through life’s many obstacles including love, honor, greed and betrayal
 
This is a good read of a nongenre “nonwestern” western exploring a foreigner’s complicated struggles in a foreign land while searching for a way to reach home.
 
Hernan Diaz Is the author of Borges, Between History and Eternity (Bloomsbury, 2012), managing editor of RHM, and associate director of the Hispanic Institute at Columbia University.
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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.
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Wolf Season by Helen Benedict

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Reviewed by Lynette G. Esposito

In Wolf Season, published by Bellevue Literary Press, New York, 2017, Helen Benedict reveals lessons in interpersonal relationships of average people who have survived horrific war experiences.  Benedict addresses both the psychological and physical damages as well as changes inflicted on the survivors whose stories stay with you after you have finished reading the book.

Juney, veteran, Rin’s nine-year-old blind daughter, Tariq, son of Naema, the widow of an Iraqi war interpreter, and Flanner, son of a deployed marine, represent the innocent sufferers of wars from which their parents try to keep them safe. Beth, Rin, Naema, Todd, and Louis represent the damaged adults who try to protect the children from the aftermath reality of their complicated war experiences.  All the characters are well drawn and believable.  To accomplish this, Benedict follows the characters’ every-day activities of normal American living and their sometimes extreme reactions to seemingly simple things.

Rin, a widowed war veteran, tries to fulfill her husband’s dream of raising wolves in the woods outside of fictional Huntsville, New York.  Her PTSD and flashbacks from being raped by her comrades contribute to her paranoia and prevent her from normal interactions with other humans.  Naema, a doctor from Iraqi, tries to adjust to American life with her son who has lost his leg to a bomb in Iraq.  Beth, Flanner’s mother, suffers the loneliness of a deployed husband who comes back so changed, she believes he is two people—the before and after.  When a hurricane hits this small community, these characters are whirled in to a crazy soup that only mother nature can cook up.

The novel is divided into four parts each with a title that suggests the focus in each section. The wolves and other animals in the book provide a symbolic backdrop of interdependency on each other and the humans who love them.  Benedict’s use of nature and natural instincts gives readers a deep sense of what it takes to survive and the terrible toll war and loneliness extracts not only on those who go to war but also those waiting at home.

It is a good read and engaging on many levels.  It has a light touch of politics as all war stories do, but the focus is on the consequences to people and their stories of coping when back at home.

Benedict is a professor at Columbia University and is the author of seven novels. She has also written nonfiction and a play.  She currently lives in New York. For more information, visit www.helenbenedict.com .

You can find the book here: http://blpress.org/books/wolf-season/ 

 

Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.