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Wild Life Paperback – September 17, 2001
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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.
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Just my theory. Read it and decide for yourself!
Far too many 'dropped in' quotes from other authors and too much jumping around. It perhaps could have been two books; I struggled to finish as I rarely stop once started on a book, but certainly didn't yearn to just sit and read as I had with "Jump Off Creek" never wanting that story to end.
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