Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Undiscovered Country - Lin Enger

Undiscovered Country
Lin Enger
Little, Brown & Company


During a hunting trip, seventeen-year-old Jesse Matson hears a shot and somehow knows that it’s the end of everything he’s ever known. Rushing across the ridge to the blind his father occupied, he finds his father’s body, minus most of the skull. The coroner and sheriff are content to call it a suicide, even though there were no signs of depression. There’s no way to match ballistics when a rifle at close range caused the damage.

Jesse’s mother floats around in a bubble of her own despair and denial, leaving Jesse largely responsible for his eight-year-old brother, Magnus. Through it all, Jesse remains convinced that there’s another, more sinister explanation for his father’s death. His father visits him, perhaps in a dream brought on by shock or exhaustion. Jesse suspects his Uncle Clay, his father’s ne’er-do-well younger brother; the man who dated his mother first and never got over her.

The bleak Minnesota winter perfectly echoes Jesse’s sense of desolation at the loss of his father. This is clearly a spin on Hamlet, but the author doesn’t play it coy, instead allowing Jesse to openly draw parallels between the play and his life. The prose is perfect, capturing both the little, offhand moments and the huge events that shape our lives with the same clarity. Anyone who has lost a parent, in any circumstances, will understand much of the emotional terrain that Jesse must traverse. Jesse’s visions of his father, particularly the final one, are deeply moving without being saccharine. This is a beautiful novel, worthy of readers’ attention.

Rating: 8 ½
July 2008
ISBN# 978-0-316-00694-1


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