For readers of Ron Rash, Thomas H. Cook, and Tim Johnston, In Wilderness is a suspenseful and literary love story hailed by New York Times bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson as “heartbreaking, bold, relentless” and “the work of a true original.”
Includes an exclusive conversation between Diane Thomas and Christina Baker Kline
Told she is dying of the mysterious illness that plagues her, thirty-eight-year-old Katherine Reid moves to a remote cabin in the southern mountains to live out her last days. But in this peaceful solitude, her life may still be in terrible danger: A damaged young man also lives in the forest, and he watches her every move.
Praise for In Wilderness
“A harrowing exploration of desire and obsession, In Wilderness sends two people into a physical and psychological wilderness that becomes stranger and more terrifying the deeper they go.”—Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train
“Not my usual thing, which makes me say it all the louder: I love, love, love this book—the fearless and unflinching story of two extraordinary, vivid people alone in a vast pristine wilderness, told with genuine suspense and a wonderfully empowering ending. In Wilderness is altogether spectacular.”—Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Personal
“Thomas writes hauntingly of obsession and survival in this dark, unusual love story. . . . As the author moves her characters through the seasons of 1966, 1967, and 1968, she offers a deep and unforgettable look into how tragedy and madness can shape lives. Written from the points of view of two suffering people, the story takes on an almost surreal, lyrical quality. Riveting and raw.”—Publishers Weekly
“Explosive . . . The tension continues to grow. . . . Thomas writes with richness, describing the natural world as viscerally as she does the interior lives of these two intense characters. . . . Recommended for readers who also like the raw, honest writing of Amy Bloom or Amanda Coplin.”—Library Journal
“Gripping . . . powered by genuine suspense and driven forward by two characters whose lives readers cannot look away from . . . a memorable story of an isolated, beautiful place and of two people trying to make sense of the world they have chosen to live in.”—Booklist
“Unforgettable: a mad, haunting, dreamlike story of love, obsession, and wildness . . . Diane Thomas mixes elegant prose with raw emotion.”—William Landay, New York Times bestselling author of Defending Jacob
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
In advertising, she has learned, you live and die by the Rule of Three: “Less tar, less nicotine, same great taste.”
It’s the same in life: “Third time’s the charm.” The gray-haired gastroenterologist seated across from her behind his cluttered mahogany desk is Dr. Third Opinion, her last hope, who was supposed to sally forth and save the day.
But Dr. Third Opinion has not sallied forth, has chosen instead to betray her, to align himself with doctors one and two in his assessment that her pain and suffering come from her body’s failure to assimilate her food. Not to put too fine a point on it, she’s starving; soon her organs will start shutting down; she’s got at most six months.
And there you have it: “Three strikes, you’re out.”
Assimilate. Good word, that. Significantly more abstract and intellectual than digest, which might far too easily lead to overcontemplation of actual physical functions. She nods to indicate she knows the word’s import, knows the import of all his words. Which she does, her mind’s eye picturing each in a contrasting typeface—Garamond, Bodoni Bold, Helvetica—as if they are a dummy print ad sent her for critiquing. Dying. D. Y. I. N. G. She can get no closer to the thing than metaphor: exiting early from an unproductive meeting in some new office high-rise, into an empty hallway with harsh lighting, where she will wait alone for an elevator that never comes. This is not particularly satisfactory.
“What’s its name, this thing that’s killing me?”
Names matter. For a while they were her specialty, extracting from thin air the perfect single-word descriptor for a suburban subdivision, line of carpeting, or processed sandwich spread. Before names she specialized in graphic design—logos, illustrations—and married her boss. After names she got promoted to creative director. This doctor, like the other two, tells her he does not know the name of what is killing her. Among all the colleagues, laboratories, scientists, and sorcerers her physicians have consulted, not one has come up with an answer. She is dying of a lack of information.
If she opens her mouth to scream now, she will never stop.
By her count she’ll make it through Christmas into 1967. Maybe see the trees leaf out, but that’s less certain. Thirty-eight seems young to die. But maybe if you’re ninety-six so does ninety-seven. She has disciplined herself these past four years to give no outward sign. Of anything. Except she can’t quiet her trembling hands.
“I see.” She doesn’t, it’s just what one says. Or maybe not; she’s got no idea what one says, she’s never died before.
The doctor frowns, delicately clears his throat. “If you’ll forgive me, there’s one question I try to ask all my patients. For my own edification, really, so if you’d rather not . . .”
“Oh, no, it’s fine.”
Truly, it is. He looks so earnest, the doctor. He seems a kindly man, in his white coat; she hopes his gray hair is premature and that he can look forward to a long career.
“Can you recall for me the last day that you felt completely well?” The doctor pauses. “There’s no hurry. Take all the time you need.”
All the time she needs would be six decades, although right now she’d be quite satisfied with five. Or four. Yet answering his question needs no time at all. The last day she felt completely well was May 24, 1962, a day she still remembers for an incident of such transcendent beauty she mistook it for a foretaste of all her life to come.
With her belly gloriously swollen, she was seated on a red stepstool in the baby’s room, or what would be the baby’s room in two more months, drawing pictures on its robin’s-egg-blue walls. A kite, eyes closed in rapture, rode the blowing wind; a rabbit in a frock coat and monocle had just popped out of his rabbit hole; a library table frowned beneath its load of books. Alice in Wonderland, Tom Sawyer, Little Women, she was lettering their titles when there came a loud commotion from the peaceful residential street—brakes grinding, men shouting, and a strange hissing sound. She flung her brush onto the canvas drop cloth, can still see it there in a faint spatter of black paint, and ran down the hall into their bedroom, hers and Tim’s, to see what was the matter.
Outside the open window, a city truck was spraying the runtiest of the ginkgoes in the grassy strip beyond the sidewalk, the tree with all its fan-shaped leaves eaten to filigree. The window framed a tracery of leaves and branches in a pearly mist shot through with rainbows. She remembers thinking she did not deserve to come upon such beauty, that she already had her child inside her, which was far and away beauty enough. Nonetheless, she stayed there, nose pressed against the rigid metal screen, for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, filled with too much gratitude to move. Stayed until the spraying was completed and the truck lumbered off down the street. A small collection of leftover rainbows lingered as drops of consolation on the screen—along with an oily film inside the draperies that, Tim said the next morning, stank like a cheap Florida motel and gave him tropical dreams.
When she is finished speaking, the doctor gazes past her with so great a sadness she experiences a moment of confusion, unsure if she has also told him how, only a day or so later, the headaches started and her energetic child quit moving. She never spoke of it, but even that unyielding denial did not save him. Tim couldn’t face it, made believe it never happened, left her to grieve alone. Became first a shadow and then slipped away, under the door or something. Left her controlling interest in the agency, an unwanted guilt offering, began another someplace far away—Milwaukee? Minneapolis?—she never can recall exactly where. Sometime in there her illness got its start and grew without her knowing, like gossip you don’t hear until too late.
Dr. Third Opinion sighs. He leans back in his creaky chair, stares past her into some middle distance to her left. “A hundred, hundred-twenty years ago, we used to tell patients like you, patients we had no hope of curing, to go west, move to the country, take the Grand Tour of Europe. Anything. A change of scene. After all this time, we can’t do any better.”
“Were they healed? The ones who went away?” Hates her voice’s horrid, hopeful whine.
He shrugs. “Who knows? I doubt most of their physicians ever heard from them again.”
He writes in his prescription pad, tears out the page. “This is for Valium. Refillable as long as you need it.”
She squints at it, can’t read his writing, bets it cuts off in six months.
“And don’t hesitate to call me if you need to.”
“Thank you, Doctor, that’s most kind.” What good would calling do?
After he leaves, she checks her reflection in the mirror by the door. Dull dark hair, hollow eyes, drawn mouth; the glen plaid suit hangs so loose on her now. She regrets not keeping her religion after high school. As things stand, she’s got no idea of what’s wanted, no chips to bargain with, nothing to trade. If she believes in anything, she believes in Sartre: Death is nothingness, silence under a bleak sky.
Absence of pain, one hopes. Not much help otherwise.
She touches the pearl earrings she put on earlier that morning, her gold watch. She wants to cry and doesn’t dare, for the same reason that she didn’t scream. The sure knowledge she will die descends upon her then, not unlike that earlier mist, and cloaks her in its shimmering protection. From that moment, she becomes a different person, never certain anymore what she will do.
What she does first is unremarkable. Drives straight home, gathers all the Valium bottles from her medicine cabinet and dumps their contents out onto her bedside table. She’s not sure why, except they’re pretty there against the dark, polished wood. She pushes them around with an index finger, the five-milligram yellow tablets toward the center, the two-milligram whites into radiating petal-lines around them, the ten-milligram blues stretched out to make a single leaf and stem. Doctors always prescribe Valium for you when they don’t know what else to do. She always dutifully filled her prescriptions, as if each new bottle might include some fresh, heretofore undiscovered healing charm. The pills always only made her feel peculiar, so she never took more than one or two from any of the bottles. Her finished flower is quite large.
A daisy. Have a happy day.
Slowly, deliberately, she licks the tip end of her finger, picks up a white petal-pill, brings it to her tongue like a communion wafer.
“He loves me.”
Licks her finger, brings up another petal-pill.
“He loves me not.”
“He loves me,” from the bright yellow center.
From the blue stem, “He loves me not.”
“Who loves me? God?”
Blue pill. “He loves me not.”
Rakes the remaining flower into her left hand, gulps it down with water from a glass on the night table, and—mildly surprised, one rarely knows at the outset where any choice might lead—stretches out on her brass bed to die.
Considers pulling up the covers should her feet get cold, decides it won’t be necessary.
She has always loved this bed, one of the few items of furniture in the house that she herself picked out and paid for. The rest Tim brought home, leftovers from his redo of the agency. Bauhaus in agencies was trendy not so long ago; now it’s dated. Poor Tim. Some things about him can still make her sad.
She raises her head, looks around the familiar room. How long has she been lying here? Shouldn’t she at least be feeling drowsy? Except for a slight swelling, a slight itchy swelling, in the roof of her mouth, nothing has changed. Children are playing in the street, riding in those little pedal cars. Pleasant sound, children’s voices. Girl and boy from two houses down, she’s seen them often. Her own child, had he lived, would be about the boy’s age.
What if these children are who find her body?
How awful that would be.
The itchy swelling in her mouth has spread into her throat, begun to gag her. She runs for the bathroom, heaves up colorful Valium sequins into her bright white toilet.
Stands up, rinses her mouth—should have known pills wouldn’t work, she vomits everything—then goes into the kitchen and puts on a pot of coffee, brings in the morning paper off the porch. It’s Friday, the paper comes rolled in its want-ad section. She pours her coffee, sits on a stool at the kitchen counter, stares down vacantly at the lines of tiny type. Reads them because they’re what’s in front of her.
1961 Corvair, excellent condition, 8,000 miles. She has no use for a second car.
Free kittens, 10 weeks old, guaranteed cute and sweet. There’s a phone number. Maybe she should have a kitten; sweet, fuzzy kitten to take her mind off dying.
Don’t be stupid. Poor little thing’ll starve beside your corpse.
She shakes her head to clear the image.
For sale: Splendid forest isolation. Rustic mountain cabin adjacent to national forest and sizable private wilderness preserve. Outbuilding; acreage with meadow, garden spot and pond. Three-hour drive. Nicer to think of than a starving kitten.
She sighs, drains the last of her coffee, gets up and takes the otherwise unread paper to the den, drops it atop a stack of newspapers in a copper bin near the fireplace. She needs to get to the office before people start to wonder where she is. Bright, creative people with their whole lives ahead of them—people who, if they knew what she was facing, could not comprehend it.
During the two weeks she’s been dying, which is how she’s come to think of them, she’s turned into a master at delegating. It’s what she does best. Doles out pieces of responsibility—one here, one there—until they’re all gone and she can stare out over her uncluttered desk to her office door that’s always closed these days and try to think of nothing. It’s all she has stamina for anymore. She’s begun to feel much weaker, and her everything’s-just-fine charade has grown harder to maintain. She gets to the agency later in the mornings, leaves by early afternoon. Has said she’s “working on a project.” No one asks her what it is. No one asks her anything; the agency evidently runs quite well without her. Amazing how one can attain a status so high he (or she) is of no use at all.
At home, as in the office, she mostly spends her waking hours sitting in the den and staring straight ahead. Nights, she’s learned sufficient sleeping pills and Valium will, by God, take her where she wants to go: into oblivion. It’s late November, turning cold. The heat that blows through the floor registers is never enough this year to keep her warm, no matter where she sets the thermostat. Probably something to do with her dying—the next phase of the process has to start somewhere. She’s taken to building evening fires in the den’s stone fireplace. Then she lies on the sofa and tries, or at least pretends to try, to read—that age-old prescription that’s supposed to take one’s mind off things. Thrillers. The only books fast-paced enough to stand a chance at holding her attention. Books filled with characters who die, often violently, which for some perverse reason she finds comforting.
Tonight’s a good night; she actually kept down a little food. She twists up several pages from her stack of newspapers to get a good fire going. Used to gather pinecones for this purpose; there are always lots of pinecones in the backyard. Front yard, too—one more thing she and Tim had loved about this house was all the trees. She doesn’t gather pinecones anymore. So much easier to just use newspapers, watch them catch the fatwood, watch the logs begin to burn. Her stack is dwindling. The pages in her hands are weeks old.
For sale: Splendid forest isolation. Rustic mountain cabin adjacent to national forest . . .
A ring-shaped coffee stain puckers the page. She remembers how it got there and the first time she read the ad. Reads it again. The words, the picture they create, leave something peaceful in her mind. Later, for a while at least, she will think how easily she might have missed seeing the ad, and will feel then, for an instant, as if she is free-falling from some great height.
What she does the next day in her office—behind her closed door, at her uncluttered desk—astounds her: She phones the listing agent and asks if the property is still available.
She’s buying it as an investment, won’t need to look at it, she tells him. At her insistence the closing comes immediately, the week before Christmas. If she’s lucky, she still has five months—or what portion of that time she can endure.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
A Conversation Between Diane Thomas and Christina Baker Kline
Christina Baker Kline: What inspired you to write In Wilderness?
Diane Thomas: The wild, unspoiled beauty of the north Georgia and North Carolina mountains in the 1960s inspired me. Back then they still held vast tracts of undeveloped land where a person might live virtually undisturbed. I wondered how an isolated existence in such a remote setting might affect people who were unused to it. Would they become more violent, more primitive? Or would they keep their civilized behaviors? Would the institution of selfless, romantic love, for example, unmask itself as something purely animal? Or would it survive?
CBK: You wrote your earlier version of In Wilderness (then called The Clearing) many years ago. How did it differ from the final book? What did you learn writing it that helped you write In Wilderness?
DT: The story that makes up In Wilderness happens in all the same places it did in The Clearing. The new manuscript also kept most of the same plot points. And yet the entire book is changed. The strength of Danny’s personality, so different from that of his earlier incarnation, changed all of Katherine’s interactions with him, and thus some aspects of her own personality. I also set In Wilderness further back in time (1966) than The Clearing, which takes place in 1973. Those few years—-encompassing the hippie era, the rise of feminism, and much of the Vietnam War—-made an enormous difference: The values and behaviors Katherine starts out with in In Wilderness were shaped by that earlier time. I was surprised how long it took me to rewrite—-perhaps longer than creating an entirely different novel would have. Actually, now that I think about it, that’s what I did: I created an entirely different novel.
CBK: Did the novel unfold as you expected it to? Did any scenes—-or plot points—-take you by surprise?
DT: The first version, The Clearing, came about primarily as a reaction to a period of extreme ill health; writing it enabled me to “escape” from my near--bedridden condition, and to distract myself from fears of dying. The ill health proved transient, and as no one took the manuscript, I set it aside and went back to my day job. When I returned to it thirty years later, I expected to find writing that was inferior but characters that held up. The opposite proved true, at least with the male character: The writing was good, but I did not find him engaging or believable.
The Danny of In Wilderness differs totally from his counterpart in The Clearing, who was a cultured, disaffected millionaire in his forties. In In Wilderness, he is a twenty--year--old mountain boy so traumatized by his experiences in Vietnam he has become almost feral. I made him the opposite of Katherine, the story’s protagonist, in every way. The only thing they have in common is that by the time they meet, they’ve both lost everyone and everything they ever loved. What surprised me most in this later version was how deeply I cared for this new male character. He was edgy, complex, perhaps the embodiment of evil. But in a strange way he was also an innocent. Time and again, I found tears running down my face as I wrote him.
CBK: You deal with some heavy subjects in this novel, from illness and loss to loneliness and healing. Did you draw on anything in your own life or family history as you crafted the story?
DT: In writing the first version, I was dealing with my aforementioned illness, which in itself was isolating. In what I later came to recognize as an attempted exorcism, I gave my symptoms to my manuscript’s protagonist and said, in effect, “Symptoms, be gone.” I also gave her my attitude regarding my illness: that one soldiers on as best as one can. All of this carried over from The Clearing to In Wilderness.
CBK: In Wilderness has a powerful sense of atmosphere. You lived in the South for most of your life. How did living there influence your sense of place? Did you ever live in a remote cabin, like Katherine and Danny?
DT: I’ve never thought of In Wilderness as a specifically “Southern” novel. Its story might have taken place in any large mountain wilderness in the latter 1960s. I instead see it as a “mountain” story. The mountain areas of the South differ markedly from the rest of the region: The land is too rugged to grow cotton, and thus historically few people owned slaves there. The inhabitants of the Southern mountains have always been fiercely independent; many of the South’s mountain counties were Union sympathizers in the Civil War.
Ever since I can remember, the southern Appalachians have held a deep and abiding fascination for me. I spent most of my life in Atlanta, and sometimes, when my work as a freelance business writer led me far into the city’s northern sprawl, I could see them, misty in the distance. Years ago, I was stranded in an Atlanta taxi during a flash flood with an old driver who’d been born and raised in those mountains. I asked him what that had been like, expecting a few idyllic recollections. Instead, he told me how, shortly before World War II, when he was five years old, a pretty little blond girl his same age was brutally raped by a neighbor. Fearing justice would not otherwise be done, the local people kidnapped the man, took him deep into the woods, and burned him at the stake. Every man, woman, and child from miles around was present, and before the burning each person was made to contribute at least one piece of wood to the pile. The taxi driver’s mother gave him a small branch, led him by the hand up to the stake, and told him to place it there. Then she took him down by the nearby river, where he could neither see nor hear what was about to happen, sat with him, and gave him a piece of cornbread. I had never known a people capable of carrying out such vengeance. They seemed the pure embodiment of myth and story.
I never lived in a remote cabin like Katherine. But the taxi driver’s narrative knocks around inside me still. As does a single childhood visit to my great-aunt Mattie, in her two--room cabin with its logs joined with wooden pegs. She lived in a place called Startown, and my child’s mind conjured stars spinning great Van Gogh whorls in a black sky. Not long after—-I think I was seven—-I wrote a poem about “a cozy cabin right among the pines.” Three decades later, I gave that cabin to Katherine. These days, when people ask me where I’m from, I say if home is where my stuff is, I’m from Santa Fe, but if home is where my heart is, I’m from the southern mountains. They and their people inform my writing even now. To my mind, that’s where my sense of place comes from and any atmosphere I might bring to it.
CBK: Throughout the novel, Danny woos Katherine by leaving her books. How did you choose those particular books? Were there any others you wanted to use in the novel, but didn’t?
DT: Despite his identification with Gatsby, whom he encountered in an English class during his one college semester, Danny tends to think of works of fiction as fascinating but pretty much interchangeable; without his friend and childhood mentor, Jimbo, he might not have read much of it at all. The bookshelves lining the walls in the library of his burned--out house, where Peyton Place might stand next to The Odyssey, reinforce this concept. Danny reads these books in the order they are shelved. He likes the randomness, the unexpectedness of it; to him it’s like life. He can’t get into E. M. Forster’s Room with a View, decides it might be better appreciated by a woman, and passes it along to Katherine when he leaves the peaches on her porch. The books mentioned in In Wilderness came up as I was writing. Sometimes they have significance, and sometimes, like life, they came up at random.
CBK: You are in your seventies. Do you think you write differently now than you did when you were younger? If so, in what way?
DT: I believe that, generally speaking, the older one gets, the longer one’s view becomes and the more context and authority one is able to bring to it. Also, there’s a greater sense of urgency: When you have something to say, you want to get it said, said right, and said immediately, because you never know if that chance will be your last. Yet at the same time I believe I now write closer to the bone, more to the point than ever.
CBK: Living alone, Katherine discovers a latent artistic ability. Are you a visual artist as well as a writer?
DT: I minored in art in college, which led me to realize what little talent I had for it. Several years later I became the film reviewer for The Atlanta Constitution, then that city’s morning newspaper, which was perhaps a way for my interest in things visual to express itself indirectly. I should note that each of my three novels, including the one in progress, began with a mental image. For The Year the Music Changed, it was a black female disc jockey inside a radio station control booth doing her show in the middle of the night; it ended up near the book’s conclusion. For In Wilderness, it was Katherine walking into the dull winter forest in her bright red coat, which was near that book’s beginning. My novel in progress, set in two different time periods, has somewhat of a two--pronged beginning, with an image from each era.
CBK: In Wilderness opens with a failed pregnancy and closes with a new life. What role do Katherine’s fertility issues have in her psychology and her development as a character? How does becoming a mother change her?
DT: I don’t have children of my own, but I’m very close to my stepson—-close enough to have some inkling of how fierce motherhood can make someone. When Katherine got pregnant the first time, she quit mourning for her lost love and “came back to herself in a fierce way,” to love and protect her child. That same energy remains a primary aspect of her character, and her protectiveness comes into play during her second pregnancy, with deep consequences.
CBK: Why did you leave the South and relocate to Santa Fe? How has living there shaped your writing?
DT: For several years, my husband and I actually did live in a lovely mountain community north of Atlanta. The last thing I wanted to do was leave it. But the area’s dampness and humidity caused me severe mold allergies, so we came West seeking drier air. I doubt I will ever presume to write about Santa Fe, the desert, or other aspects of New Mexico as any more than a place a character once lived in or is passing through. Though its history fascinates me, and I’ve made wonderful friends and have never seen such a nurturing environment for creativity, I know so little of this place compared to what I know of the southern Appalachians. I know that part of the country through my heritage, bones, DNA. My father’s people settled in view of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1700s. My mother’s people came to western North Carolina around the same time.
When I left the South I was sixty--seven. With the exception of two school years in New York getting an MFA at Columbia University, I had lived entirely in the South since I was three. I love the South and always will, I can’t help it—-even though it seems a lot like loving a mother with borderline personality disorder: She’s beautiful, charming, generous, welcoming, and kind—-until she veers off without warning into something unimaginably ugly and dangerous. But you love her nonetheless, even though you can’t forgive her and often barely understand her—-she is, after all, your mother.
There’s a long tradition of writers leaving the South only to spend most of their remaining lives writing richly and insightfully about it. Willie Morris comes immediately to mind, as does Truman Capote. Leaving makes you realize you know things about the South you didn’t know you knew—-like how, even in winter, when the central heat stays on, your bedsheets are always just a little damp from the humidity; or how, failing thunder, you never know it’s going to rain until it falls on you, because you can’t see the weather in the distance for the trees; or how “y’all” might one day serve a vital purpose in the English language, which unlike, say, French or Spanish, does not have a plural for “you”—-and that these things matter.
CBK: When she’s living in Atlanta, Katherine is debilitated by her illness. Through solitude and nature she is able to heal. The mind--body connection seems important in transforming Katherine’s health. Can you say more about the connection between psychological and physical wellness?
DT: It’s true Katherine feels empowered by her wilderness existence in ways she did not in the city. She suffers from environmental illness, as do I, which was virtually unheard of in the sixties. It’s a physical condition, although many members of the medical profession have been slow to accept it as such since many times its symptoms can be neurological (dizziness, mental confusion, short--term memory loss, seizures). Its onset is often triggered by exposure to one or another chemical compound; in Katherine’s case, it’s a pesticide. Petrochemicals and artificial fragrances are generally the biggest offenders in environmental illness and, since Katherine’s wilderness environment contains neither, her strength improves from her first day in the forest, as does her mood. Gradually, she becomes less afraid—-of both her illness and her aloneness. Before long she plants a garden, a metaphor for becoming involved with her new surroundings and taking responsibility for her life there. Soon she realizes she’s getting better. She is becoming whole, physically and psychologically.
CBK: What are you working on now?
DT: On what I hope will be a novel in short stories. Part of it takes place in the early 1970s and part during the “Great Recession” that began in late 2008. Readers of In Wilderness’s epilogue will know where the new manuscript is mostly set. It’s still in its early first--draft stage, but two of its short stories are nearly complete and my excitement over them is absolutely shameful.
1. We know why Katherine buys a gun before she goes into the wilderness to die. But why does she buy vegetable seeds? Is she simply angry, or is there another, deeper reason?
2. What does Katherine’s garden represent? What role does it play in the story?
3. Discuss Katherine’s relationship to the natural world. How does hers differ from Danny’s? In what scenes are these differences most clear?
4. Why is Katherine drawn to Danny, given their differences? Would they have been attracted to each other if they had met before they came to the wilderness?
5. In Wilderness is in part a book about two illnesses unrecognized in the latter 1960s, when the story takes place: multiple chemical sensitivity (also called environmental illness) and post--traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What are people’s attitudes toward these conditions today? Do you believe some illnesses are still unrecognized? What happens to people who suffer from them? How can/do they find solutions?
6. Both Katherine and Danny were on their way to realizing the American Dream. What derailed them? What replaces the American Dream for them when they’re together in the forest?
7. Do you think Katherine becomes healed? If yes, what do you think heals her?
8. Do you believe Danny finds redemption?
9. Near the book’s end, Katherine ventures into the heart of the forest. What do you think draws her there? What do you think she finds there? Where does she end up at the chapter’s end, and why?
10. Some researchers, analyzing cave drawings and other ancient data, believe humans and animals were once able as a matter of course to hear “the music of the spheres”—-humming sounds emitted by rocks, trees, animals, and other humans—-but that humans at least have lost this ability. Do you believe such sounds might have once existed? Might they still exist? If yes, why can’t we hear them today?
11. In the epilogue, do you believe Katherine has found peace and psychological health, or has she simply become a somewhat mentally disturbed hermit? What about her child? What kind of person do you imagine her child will grow up to become?
12. What has Katherine’s pristine forest become? Why did she leave? Should she have stood her ground? People came from cities to live in the community of Bartram’s Mountains: what are their attitudes toward the forest that surrounds them? Might the presence of the forest change these attitudes in any way? How?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Absolute 5 star read for me. This book promised something out of the ordinary and boy did it deliver. After turning the last page I sat and wondered how I would write a review that could convey all that I was feeling. Instead I just started typing the words that came to mind - haunting touching emotive descriptive thought-provoking gripping at times terrifying gut wrenching poetic moving crescendo masterful in setting the scenes kept me off balance and on my toes tear jerking raw animalistic wild laid bare heart wide open not your usual love story It is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I co-read this with my friend Lola over at Scandalicious Book Reviews and we posted a book chat. Go there to read more on our thoughts about this great book
I really enjoyed this book. Writing flowed like poetry. Beautiful descriptiond i was immersed in it and was sad when it was over. Don't miss this litttle jewel!
I typically devour a good 300 page book in a day or two. It took me a week and a half with this one because I kept forgetting that I was reading it. It didn't grab me at all ... I felt obligated to finish it because I paid for it. I wouldn't waste my money on this again...
Not your run of the mill love story, a little dark and tragic at times but over all a very good book.
I did not enjoy this book. It highlighted the darkest side of humans without exploring the ability of the human spirit to overcome.
My feelings remain mixed concerning this book. The story follows Katherine Reid as she leaves the high stress life for a move to a virtual wilderness in her quest to end her troubled life. Katherine has been told that the doctors cannot find the root of her illnesses and that she has less than a year to live, so she sells everything and buys a rustic cabin with no conveniences. As Katherine prepares to die or kill herself when the pain becomes too great, a young man, Danny, complicates the saga. Lust and dependence invade the wilderness, and the story takes many turns before a disappointing ending. Why??? Thomas presents a strong willed and intelligent Katherine in the beginning, but a naïve and ignorant Katherine after meeting Danny. Of course, individuals are dimensional, but Katherine changes too drastically.
In Wilderness is a literary fiction novel written by author Diane Thomas. After finishing this book, my thoughts about it felt somewhat disorganized. I could not write a review right away. All I knew was that in some strange, deranged way, I loved it...every dysfunctional and haunting thing about it. I think I can put my thoughts down now. I won't say that I can do it justice, because I know I can't. But here it goes... On Ms. Thomas's goodreads author page, she provides some insights regarding her book In Wilderness. I love it when authors share these intimate details with their readers. It makes all the difference!! "My second novel, In Wilderness, a literary thriller inspired in part by the haunting southern Appalachian folk ballads of violence and erotic obsession, was also my first. I wrote it in 1981 to distract myself from fears of dying, during an extended period of extreme ill health. I titled this early version The Clearing, gave my symptoms to its protagonist, and sent her into a Georgia mountain wilderness to either die or heal." And so begins this story set in the years 1966-1968 about Katherine and Danny, two characters who both are struggling with very real illnesses that had yet to be recognized by their medical community. They have each taken extreme measures to deal with their symptoms alone, finding solace in the isolation of the Georgia mountains while living off the land. I must admit, I found this story slow in the beginning, but it is important world-building...because as a reader, I definitely felt the time period and the unique environment. Eventually though, these two souls are drawn to one another during their time in the wilderness, and at first it is not clear for what purpose: co-existing as neighbors, companions, family, lovers... it is somewhat complex to follow but engaging nonetheless. The relationship ebbs and flows through a variety of dynamics and even at their most dysfunctional, I couldn't stop reading. There is very little verbal interaction between the two; most of everything is third-person internal dialogue and I was captivated by the characters' parallel thought processes and how it influenced their overall behavior. Ms. Thomas's writing is exquisite. I read a review that described it as dream-like and it is the perfect description! I want to read this book again and again, yet at the same time I am fearful to repeat this story. It is metaphoric, poetic, raw, damaged, yet somehow soul-saving. I can't explain it properly...you'll just have to read it. So read it. Let it thrill you, disturb you, and speak to you. You will taste the freshness of a garden, you will smell the scents of untainted earth, you will feel the wind moving through your hair. You will be transported to a wilderness that is both harmful and healing. Go! My favorite quote: "...a mountain, or a wilderness, is very like a child, your child, whom you must cherish throughout all your life. Not because it's right and good to do so, but because you are compelled to, in some unspoken partnership with life on earth."
Although slow to start, the story line was engaging, entangling my feminine, base instincts with reality. Empathy for its characters will confuse and titillate. A fantastic read.
Im ashley anyone wanna talk