The Wilding

Author: Benjamin Percy

Type: Fiction, novel

Published: 2010

I read it: June 2013


When I look into our dog’s eyes I often wonder about her sense of place. Does she know she lives in a structured city, or are her hours indoors just pauses from the moments she gets to romp in the backyard and run circles in the park? Does she resent the leash every single time, or is it a normal part of her existence? (Well, I know she resents it at least some of the time.) I wonder how much she comprehends, and I wonder what I would give to spend a day in her skin.

Percy’s novel pushes its characters to a canyon on the eve of its modern development, and they confront that confusion of camping so near–yet so far–from safe civilization. It’s a doomed wilderness that serves to remind the main protagonist, Justin, “that no matter how much this feels like the middle of nowhere, it isn’t.” Even so, it’s just “nowhere” enough to make the men second-guess motives and actions in a hostile setting.

The civilization is the opposite of safe for another character, Brian, a recent war vet who feels alien in his day-to-day existence, and only thrives while lurking around town masked by a stitched fur suit. There is one female point-of-view in Karen, a woman who feels a hollowness take hold inside her while her husband, son, and father-in-law leave home to camp for the weekend. She crosses paths with Brian in odd and unsettling ways.

I had this book on my shelf after reading about Percy’s teaching gig in the “creative writing and environment” program at Iowa State University. The book is a quality example of the exploration of place, of both internal and external natures, brought out with the poetic conscience and lyricism of a short story writer (this is Percy’s first novel after two collections). It was serendipitous that I read this around the time of a weekend camping trip, as it was great to experience some of the bear scenes while huddled in a tent at night. But the main reason I cracked into it was that Percy recently spoke at a suburban library (yes, his voice is as unexpected as you may have heard) to promote his new book. That one is about werewolves. The Wilding serves as testament that this author skillfully explores animalistic tendencies, and I’m looking forward to someday making time for his lengthy “literary horror” piece.


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