Possessed by Shadows

Possessed by Shadows

by Donigan Merritt
     
 

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Possessed by Shadows is the story of two climbers who spend a year traveling from the rugged desert of Joshua Tree National Park to the Alps, the Himalayas, and the High Tatra mountains of Czechoslovakia.

Philosophy professor Tom Valen narrates part of their story: the time he spent climbing with his wife, Molly, as she fought cancer. He also explores

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Overview

Possessed by Shadows is the story of two climbers who spend a year traveling from the rugged desert of Joshua Tree National Park to the Alps, the Himalayas, and the High Tatra mountains of Czechoslovakia.

Philosophy professor Tom Valen narrates part of their story: the time he spent climbing with his wife, Molly, as she fought cancer. He also explores the journal she kept during the emotional period before her death, which occurred in the weeks before the Velvet Revolution in late 1989.

Told in alternating voices as Tom relives that year, Molly's journal reveals compulsions that he never suspected, her romantic life from adolescence into adulthood, and a shocking revelation about Stefan, a fellow climber who had once saved Tom's life. In the final scene of the novel, the three old friends climb the highest mountain in the Tatras one last time, where they find a kind of redemption in the face of impending death.

Possessed by Shadows is a tribute to selfless love and the bonds of friendship forged in the extremes of high mountains. It confronts us with the ultimate philosophical challenge: since we must die, how do we choose to live?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
An avid rock climber refuses to go gently in Merritt's gorgeous sixth novel. The story of Molly and Tom begins with a terrible irony: doctors examining Molly after a climbing accident (a falling rock knocked her unconscious during a climb at Tahquitz, Calif., forcing her husband, Tom, to stage a dramatic rescue) discover an inoperable brain tumor. At Molly's insistence, the two travel to Europe to climb their favorite peaks again before she dies. That setup is enough for a compelling and tragic love story, but alternating narratives and a long-kept secret make the novel even more powerful. Chapters switch between Tom's devoted, melancholy reminiscences of his last year with Molly and the text of an autobiography she wrote in her waning days, giving the story great depth of feeling. And Molly's past affair with another climber, one of Tom's best friends, hovers over events like a gray haze, adding emotional complexity. The only real problem is that Merritt's fixation on the nuances of serious climbing will be of interest primarily to other climbers; everyone else will skim ahead before slowing again at the next moment of searing humanity. Agent, Kathy Green, Carlisle & Company. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a strenuous, sad debut, a buff Southern California rock-climbing couple comes face to face with cancer. Married ten years, journalist Molly and philosophy professor Tom Valen are world-class mountaineers, frequently scrambling over boulders in the Tahquitz Mountains east of Los Angeles, near their home. In November 1988, Molly, age 33, is hit by a falling rock, and the MRI reveals a cancerous tumor in her brain. She is given a year to live, and the devoted couple decide that Tom will take a leave from his school so they can take off on a last climbing spree to France, then to the Tatra Mountains-in what is then still Czechoslovakia-where they climbed years before and made good friends with noted Slovakian climber and national hero Stefan Borak. Though she insists on climbing, Molly grows increasingly debilitated, lapsing into the gibberish of the diary she titles "Possessed by Shadows," while Tom feels a creeping sense of despair and helplessness. Meeting the cheerful, determined Stefan in Bratislava bolsters them, yet the country has been in the throes of intense communist oppression since the uprising of 1968, and many of Stefan's family and friends have been arrested. Besides, the friends' greatest accomplishments are behind them-like the climb of the Himalayan Nangat Parbat 15 years earlier, when Stefan saved Tom's life. As a result, the story has an elegiac feel, unraveling to its doomed and inevitable ending. Molly and Tom, in alternate points of view, reveal glimpses of their triumphant past together as well as Molly's early love for a master female climber she met as a teenager, a Czech named Sasa, and for Stefan. Ingenuously, Merritt weaves in a goodly lot about climbing,ranges and paraphernalia (it can all be jargon-heavy: glossary in the back), while fashioning a poignant portrait of a loving marriage nipped too soon. A dark novel pulled under by communist machinations and human mortality.
David Pitt
The author, who has published five previous novels over the past quarter-century, is one of those too-little-known writers who deserves a wider audience. This novel, which chronicles the last year in a woman's life, is everything such a story should be: moving, tender, funny, abrasive, and (yes) inspiring.
Reed Elsevier
An avid rock climber refuses to go gently in Merritt's gorgeous sixth novel. The story of Molly and Tom begins with a terrible irony.That setup is enough for a compelling and tragic love story, but alternating narratives and a long-kept secret make the novel even more powerful.
Peng Paine Sun
"Possessed by Shadows" is a brilliant and haunting novel. This work of fiction is not for the faint of heart. The narrator seizes grief and transforms it into redemptive wanderlust: venturing into the mountains, wading through memories ... Wrestling beauty and hope from excruciating pain is a survival skill that many of us get acquainted with at some point in our lives. If you have ever wondered how to distill otherworldly beauty from earthly sorrow, I would highly recommend his book.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590511589
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
06/28/2005
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.95(d)

Meet the Author

Donigan Merritt is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop and the author of seven novels, among them One Easy Piece (1981) and My Sister's Keeper (1983). He lives in Washington, DC.

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