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Wild Life Paperback – September 17, 2001


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Wild Life + The Jump-Off Creek + The Hearts of Horses
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Best Books of the Year
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1st Mariner Books ed edition (September 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618131574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618131570
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #913,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

One of the many pleasures of Molly Gloss's extraordinary third novel is watching it repeatedly change shape and direction before your eyes--a feat all the more wonderful since the narrative consists almost entirely of the fictional diaries of one woman. Charlotte Bridger Drummond--an early-20th-century single mother who supports five young sons in the just-tamed wilderness fringe of western Oregon by writing pulp fiction--presents herself as a bluff, free-thinking feminist, the kind of woman who would tumble her youngest son off her lap and onto the floor for whining. When her housekeeper's frail young granddaughter disappears from a logging camp, Charlotte unhesitatingly sets out to join the inept search parties. So, within 90 pages, Molly Gloss (The Dazzle of Day and The Jump-Off Creek) whisks us from pitch-perfect historical fiction to unsentimental lament over the devastation of the "dark and supernatural woods" of the Pacific Northwest to a kind of wild and woolly mystery story.

All of this is immensely engaging, mostly because Charlotte herself is such excellent if occasionally astringent company. But the book really catches fire when Charlotte herself gets lost in the woods. The diary continues through the harrowing days of wet, cold, hunger, hope, despair, and then her fantastic rescue by a band of semihuman giants of the deep woods. Introducing the Sasquatch legend into an otherwise scrupulously realistic historical novel might seem like a risky narrative ploy, but Gloss brilliantly pulls it off. Indeed, so deft is her fusing of the fantastic and the actual that by the end, the narrative transmogrifies once more into a profound and troubling meditation on wildness, nature, and human nature.

Wild Life brings to mind the works of Jean M. Auel, Marilynne Robinson, Ken Kesey (that dank Oregon setting of Sometimes a Great Notion), and more distantly Willa Cather--but the breadth and daring of Gloss's imagination really puts it in a class of its own. In a sense, unifying all of the many strands of this fictional tour de force is a fiercely candid portrait of the artist, an artist who in Charlotte's words fears "coming face-to-face with my Self on the printed page--it would chill me through to the heart," but who does it anyway. --David Laskin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Gloss twines just enough intellectual fiber around the sleek cord of a great adventure story to offer up a truly satisfying read. Presented as the 1905 journal of the fictional dime novelist Charlotte Bridger Drummond, Gloss's third novel (after The Jump-Off Creek and The Dazzle of Day) tells the tale of a self-avowed feminist and Freethinker and her sojourn in the wilderness of Washington's Cascade mountains. Abandoned by her husband, Charlotte supports her five boys and her housekeeper, Melba, by churning out "romantic tales of girl-heroes who are both brave and desirable." When Melba's granddaughter goes missing in the woods, Charlotte sets out, as would her heroines, to join the search party. But after days of searching, Charlotte finds herself last, for weeks managing to survive only by insinuating herself into a family of "apes or erect bears of immense size." Knowingly, Gloss plays with one of our deepest fearsDlost in the wilderness, will we be saved?Dand the myths that have grown from it. Interleaved between Charlotte's notebook entries are passages she has clipped from journals (e.g., of Samuel Butler, Willa Cather, Oscar Wilde) and excerpts from her published and unpublished fiction. Inserted among these are brief scenesDportraits, reallyDthat could be construed as Charlotte's most serious attempts to write, or as Gloss telling us what Charlotte cannot. While Gloss generates heat and humor from the friction between early 20th-century and early 21st-century attitudes, her prose is most satisfying when she describes Charlotte's housekeeper ironing or Charlotte's patient suitor batting a homemade baseball. Deep into the book, Charlotte describes the "lowbrow scientific romances" she fancies: "[M]y preference is for the writer whose language is gorgeous, whose characters are real as life, and whose stories take my poor little assumptions and give them back to me transformed." Gloss couldn't have written a better description of her own novel: the writing is gorgeous, the characters real and vivid, and the story transforming. Agent, Wendy Weil. (June) FYI: Gloss received a 1996 Whiting Award, as well as the PEN Center West Fiction Prize.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

The highlights of my writing life: In 1996 I received a Whiting Writers Award, which is sort of a MacArthur grant in a minor key. People told me the Whiting was a prestigious award but hardly anyone knows what the heck it is, so I wonder how it came to be prestigious?! Probably from the substantial chunk of change they drop on your head without warning. ("Substantial" of course being a relative term. It's not MacArthur substantial. But we paid off our house...) The Jump-Off Creek, about a woman homesteading in the Blue Mountains of Oregon in 1895, was winner of an Oregon Book Award and a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. The Dazzle of Day, my only science fiction novel, received the PEN West Fiction Prize and was a New York Times Notable Book. Fairly unusual for a science fiction novel to win a major PEN prize, but the Notable Book thing, not so much--it was Notable only within the ghetto of science fiction. Wild Life, set in the woods and mountains of Washington State at the turn of the 20th century, won the James Tiptree Jr. Award for literary fantasy, although at the time I wrote it I didn't think I was writing anything fantastical. The Hearts of Horses, about a young woman breaking horses for some farmers and ranchers in Eastern Oregon in 1917, has (so far!) been the most popular of any of my works. Is it that attention-grabbing cover? or "horses" in the title?! Guess we'll test the second theory, as I've decided to call the new novel (launching Oct. 28, 2014) Falling From Horses. Set in 1938, it's the story of a young man working as a stunt rider in Hollywood, making cowboy movies. And if you've already read The Hearts of Horses you will know the significance of this factoid: He's Henry and Martha's son.

Customer Reviews

I think I was expecting something like the other two books and had a hard time getting through this one.
Janice Stimpson
The end result is a fragmented, confusing and incomplete story that takes too long to get off the ground, and then when it finally does, it's way too brief.
Melinda Lucas
I found this book a great way to journey to the Lower 48's last wild era, the early 1900s Pacific Northwest.
R. Stading

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Brian Attebery on November 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In Wild Life, Molly Gloss has combined interests from her previous fiction: western history, women's lives, and the fantastic. The result is a fascinating, beautifully written, thought-provoking meditation on wildness of all sorts. Gloss's main character is a turn-of-the-century writer of scientific romances; her life and her writing are transformed when she ventures away from her Columbia River home to look for a lost child in the forests of the Cascade Mountains. The book alters, too, from light-hearted satire to desperate adventure to re-entry into the human community. Gloss has much to say about the way people in the West come to terms with the natural environment and with their own darker impulses. A beautiful book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Adler on April 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This highly original and astonishing novel begins with two sisters communicating about a threadbare, almost illegible diary that belonged to their grandmother, wondering how much is real and how much out of grandmother's imagination as a writer. We are thrown back a hundred years to find out. What comes out is a clever admixture of the main narrative as well as essays and adventure stories that sometimes parallel the actual, all of it ostensibly Charlotte's diary.
Although the main plot is not so believable, that is besides the point. Once that is understood, the reader gets eagerly caught up. The plot is really a backdrop or window dressing to the rest.
A quick outline: Charlotte is an educated woman, age 35, and already a widow with five sons, living in a backwater in the State of Washington near the border with Oregon. She is a writer and a feisty feminist, highly stubborn and independent, who defies as much convention as she can get away, but her neighbors are used to that. When Charlotte gets word that her housekeeper's young granddaughter is missing in the vicinity of a remote mountainous logging camp, she sets out on a long journey to find her, although others have failed. What ends in a foregone tragic conclusion for the child almost ends in one for Charlotte as well, as she becomes hopelessly lost in the woods and becomes the companion of wild animals. This is the point where the story actually comes into its own. Charlotte must now not only draw on a philosophy of life, but confront something within herself that is at once exhilarating and frightening, and will forever change her.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Brown on February 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Early in the 1900s Charlotte Bridger Drummond, a thoroughly modern woman & a writer of popular women's adventures, sets out with a search party to rescue a lost child in the wilderness between Oregon & Washington.
In the beginning, Wild Life is written in a dense & informative narrative style, reminiscent of the literature of that era & Molly Gloss has captured the transformation of a self-assured pioneer woman, confident in her knowledge of the local flora & fauna, until she becomes separated from the search party.
Then Wild Life changes to short entries of despair & longer ones when the observer, the scientist in Charlotte, overtakes the pampered housewife.
When Charlotte wanders into the territory of band of elusive, seemingly human creatures & is accepted as part of their extended family, she must re-think her modern, patronizing opinion of wild animals & learn the secrets to a contented life. Then the unthinkable happens: a battle between modern men & the wild creatures she has befriended & suddenly all the layers of that revered civilization are peeled away.
Wild Life is both a joy & a labor, a remarkably absorbing, thought-provoking & endearing read. Do check out my site for my full review.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By pullrich on August 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
You get a lot with this book: mystery, comedy, a clear picture of pioneer life at the mouth of the Columbia river at the start of the 20th century. I was completely engrossed; I lost sleep because of this book. Outstanding prose that in itself is a pleasure to read, but the tale is so well told you feel as if you're in it rather than reading. The journal style of the book works great, in my opinion. The first half or so of the book is gritty and realistic while towards the end the book takes on a more adventurous and fantastical air. That's a word of warning to approach the book knowing that the plot may take an eyebrow-raising turn or two.
If you enjoy this book I urge you to get Diane Smith's Letters from Yellowstone. You would think these books are from the same author. Similar style, similar turn of the century wilderness setting, a focus on nature, and colorful characters featuring spitfire pioneer women. I'm off to the library for more Molly Gloss books.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bazzett on April 18, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wild Life is the second Molly Gloss novel I've read, having started with her newest, The Hearts of Horses. This book was considerably denser in its nature and construction than Hearts, filled with allusions of such a variety that it was difficult at first to know what the author intended. But somehow these seemingly randomly coupled notes and interspersed quotes from folks like Samuel Butler, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Willa Cather and others all begin to coalesce and make sense in this jumbled and sometimes surrealistic tale of Charlotte Bridger Drummond's odyssey of being lost and finally found in the dark forested mountains of the Pacific Northwest in the nearly forgotten days of the "nineteen-oughts." Filled with finely drawn descriptions of how life was lived in the logged out rugged rivertowns of 1905, Gloss begins early to incorporate mysterious references to the race of giant man-like beings that were rumored even back then to exist in the dark forests and volcanic mountain regions. Think Sasquatch, Bigfoot, folks. But this is also a story of the darkness and complexity of the human heart, which incorporates tragedies both natural and man-made - timbering accidents, drownings, and even murder occur in this complex and meandering tale, which becomes perhaps just a teensy bit tedious in its second half, with its almost endless descriptions of the beauty of the Washington and Oregon rain forests where our heroine finds herself lost. The ending though redeems these long descriptive sections, and I will certainly continue to watch for other Molly Gloss titles, and already have her earlier novel, The Jump-Off Creek, in my shopping basket. - Tim Bazzett, author of ReedCityBoy
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