Excellent review of an excellent book.
One clarification: Krakauer did not rush the book. The book was complete early this year, and was slated for fall release. Rather, Doubleday rushed publication in response to Rolling Stone retracting its story about an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity.
(He talked about this in an interview, possibly with Charlie Rose.)
I am just finishing up this book and I love that Gary remained voiceless throughout the book. It felt like a really powerful response and inversion of the power dynamic present in abusive families.
Haven't read this one but it sounds pretty interesting.
For readers who want another opinion:
I just finished reading BLACK RIVER and I disagree. This book has much more to offer than your review suggests.
Many people find it difficult to speak about how they feel, especially when their emotions are intense. Having known some of those people, one man in particular, I thought Wesley's character was an accurate portrayal of the way someone like him would respond to the situations and people he encountered. Wesley grew up in a small town where most of the fathers worked at the prison and most of their sons grew up to do the same. He was not a complicated man. He lived for two things: his family and his music. This is not a character who would have an "engaging" inner life.
I was impressed by the subtle ways Hulse wrote small moments into the story. Such as Wesley's comment after his wife asked him if it was hard for him to shoot an injured deer. All he said was, "It was the right thing." Those five words opened a door in my mind that allowed so much about his character to fall into place. And I thought the moment was perfectly timed, as many moments were in this novel.
Since I have been a musician all my life, I understand what it would mean to man like Wesley to lose that voice by losing most of his ability to use his hands. Music was the one graceful way he had to express himself gracefully in the world. Now he has frustration and chronic pain. And it's not likely he only experiences those only once in a while. You say, "ad nauseum." I say how many times do you suppose he would think about the torturous, violent destruction of his hands? Probably every time he felt pain -- which was nearly every moment of every day and night -- or when he could not to do something as simple as pull the ring top off a can of orange juice for his dying wife. And then there was the moment when he couldn't grant her dying wish. To me, that is not "ad nuseum." That is bringing a fictional character to life by giving him realistic thoughts and feelings.
As you suggested, there could have been more of Dennis in the story. But, quite obviously, in BLACK RIVER, that story is not over. Maybe he will have the starring role in S. M. Hulse's next book, which I look forward to reading.
Excellent review, Chris. Weaving an intensely personal story through a life of outdoors adventure sounds like a great combination to me. Can't wait to read this one.
Here's a link to the If Not For This book trailer. Some added dimension to a powerful story. https://vimeo.com/104757597
I remember the "Hog" Jerry Daniels well from Operation Grand Eagle, I wrote about him in my book BOHICA, later i was subpenaed to testify before Secret Federal Grand Juries in DC, then before Special Senate and Congressional committees, then a under oath with truth serum testimony in which still over 25 years later the video tape done is still Classified. Jerry was a great Agent and we both loved General Vang Pao and enjoyed working in this dark world.
I'm more than a bit confused as to why this reviewer was looking for comedy and declared it a flaw of Frances Kuffel's writing when none emerged. In my opinion, one of the threads of this memoir is that certain situations in life (in this case the dating scene over age 50) is not a fun time even if approached with hope, low expectations and a grain of salt. Perhaps the reviewer should stick to reading books that promise to entertain her.
I think what the reviewer is saying is NOT that she expected everything to be tied up with a shiny bow at the end, but that she was hoping that when Frances wrote "Maybe I needed me," it signified a change in Frances' behavior, maybe even an end to desperately searching in all the wrong places for love. I have to agree that a lot of the book was painful/sad and cringe-inducing.
I couldn't disagree more with this review. I found Frances Kuffel's honesty compelling, and her prose to be fun, dancing, and intelligent. The fact that there was no resolution to the story told is because it's a series of stories---because our lives are like that. Short little films. Odd docu-dramas and quirky short movies. What you might have found choppy and erratic about her tales, I found easy to follow. The book flowed for me. Perhaps it's because I understand what it is to search for something and never find it. The idea of any book having to have some sort of resolution is silly. Life isn't resolved until death, and I certainly don't want the author of a memoir to die at the end of her story. I want her to dust herself off, pick herself up, and start all over again. That's what Frances Kuffel has done---in this book and in her life.
A distinct bravo to writer/book and reviewer. Doesn't sound like much has changed:-(
Thank you for this beautifully written review - and hope to see some Missoula folks tonight!
Astoria is more than a little tourist trap of a town...it has beautiful historic homes, and a stunning location. Yes, they depend on tourism, but so do many seaside/riverfront towns.
There are no jobs like that in journalism anymore. If you want to get paid, that is.
Next up ought to be the CIA infiltration of the anti-war scene in Missoula during the late
When I previously commented, I listed the two obvious touching contributions of the book. Now that I' continue to reflect on it, I realize there were two more: (1) the admirable, rugged, high plains mentality of the Montana people, and (2) the psyche, camaraderie, and work of the Smoke Jumpers. Now, I think I understand who they are and more precisely what they do.
I don't read the progressive Independent but I do thank them for at least recognizing Jerry
My next cool one will be for you ///////////////
For perhaps the worst three years of the 'Secret War' (1970 - 73) I was one of Jerry's favorite Air America pilots for 'behind the lines' recon flights and actual pickup and drop-off of Hmong soldiers (close enough to the fighting that parked on the ground unloading troops, hunks of dirt from incoming NVA or Pathet Lao grenades was hitting the side of my PC6 Porter).
I bought the book, and read it, and was very much impressed! Not so much about the 'war,' I already knew that - but: (1) about the Montana boy Gayle allows us to know, and does so in the most novel and artful and effective way, and (2) the plight and humanity of the Hmong people!
Kudos to the construction and assembly of a story that deserved telling.
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