Top positive review
One person found this helpful
Fantastic - and a first novel!
on 11 November 2014
This is the story of Loyal Blood, brought up in a poor farming family in Vermont in the 1920s, who accidentally kills his girlfriend and then spends the next fifty years going on a personal Oddysey through the United States. Every year he sends a postcard to his family back home, not realising that, since the War has come and gone they have mostly scattered to the four winds and that nobody reads his cards anymore. Strenuously avoiding all romantic contact with women in case he repeats the episode that drove him from home, he works his way through a number of different occupations, becoming expert in many of them yet driven on by his unstill spirit to abandon what he is good at in favour of something new...
Comparisons with Steinbeck are inevitable in a work that deals with the people of the byways; cities don't figure in the narrative at all, only farms, small hamlets and wayside bars smelling of stale beer and cigarettes burnt into the plastic tabletops. We meet and become well acquainted with the kinds of people you never hear of anywhere else - Basque trappers who go bush crazy from the solitude of their work, Cornish miners who can smell uranium deposits, fossil hunters in the Utah badlands, cattle farmers whose main staple of conversation is the best way to kill yourself when it all gets too much.
Yet Proulx gets under the skin of her characters in a way that Steinbeck doesn't - his characters, though undoubtedly vivid, tend, in books like "Tortilla Flats" and "Cannery Row", to react to events rather than initiate them, to hang off the pegs of the story rather than BE the story. Though she always writes in the third person, Proulx burrows to the very essence of the people she writes about, so that you almost feel yourself wearing them, like a second skin.
I was astonished to find, when I'd nearly finished the book, that it was her first novel. Some reviewers have found it a little too episodic in form, even disjointed , as it moves from one character to another across fifty years, but I didn't mind that at all; she is such a skillful writer that I found the transitions seamless.
Though I finished it some time ago, it haunts me as few other books do. I keep thinking of different bits of it - the mine that Loyal gets trapped in for ten days; how his brother Dub, one-armed and thought to be a simpleton, prospers when he washes up in Florida; what happens to Ma when she decides to drive her new VW across a mountain ridge in driving snow...
And I think of Loyal himself, what becomes of him after all that he's seen and done...
As you'll have guessed, I loved this book; it's joined the small but distinguished number of books that I'll keep to read again one day, once I can get the final images out of my mind.
Go on, live dangerously; give it a go.