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Wild Life by Molly Gloss
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Wild Life (2000)

by Molly Gloss

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2991437,504 (3.61)33
  1. 10
    Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler (lquilter)
    lquilter: Gloss writes beautifully, as does Fowler. The settings are similar -- 19th century Pacific Northwest. The premise is also related; an almost realistic novel that slips into SF-ality.
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original, fascinating, educational... I've never read anything like it before but I will remember the author's name and look for more by her! ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
Set around the turn of the (last) century, Wild Life by Molly Gloss presents the “found manuscript” of a novel or diary, and leaves the reader to decide what’s true and what’s not. If the story’s to be believed, there are more things hiding in the forests and mountains of the Pacific Northwest than modern man has seen (though loggers saw a lot). If not, there’s a perfect example of an “unreliable narrator” telling this tale. But you’ll have to read it yourself to decide.

In the early 1900s, pulp fiction sold well enough, though women authors lacked the opportunities given to men. Narrator Charlotte Bridger Drummond supports her family by writing, struggles to balance her time, and never seems quite clear of who or what she is. Certainly she wants to be more, and when a child goes missing she jumps at the chance to share the experience of searching the trackless forest, a task that soon has her sleeping at the loggers’ camp and listening to tales of strange scary creatures who just might steal the helpless away in the night.

Cigar-smoking, bicycle-riding Ms Drummond is, of course, not helpless, and man might be scarier than beast. Ms Drummond observes, thinks, comments, and writes in her journal. Soon she’s amazingly real as readers are pulled into the dark and light, and the scents and sounds that surround her. Her past is shrouded in the mystery of a husband’s death. Her future is clouded by her children’s needs. But her present becomes a wonderful trek of bravery or fantasy, presented with newspaper cuttings, historical factoids made real, and a wealth of personal musings.

Does this novel blend history and fantasy? Is it a real-world tale where nature and monster combine? Or is it magical realism, believed but not entirely believable, born of the fictional author’s need to be more than the real world allows? Perhaps there are mysteries inside each of us, natural selves that are finer than myths would tell, and hidden strengths that are more than duty and love. Wild Life invites readers into the wild of nature and self, hides as much as it reveals, and offers a deeply enthralling, curious read.

Disclosure: A friend gave it to me and thought I might enjoy it. I did. ( )
  SheilaDeeth | Mar 26, 2016 |
Tiptree winner . The story was OK, but what I really enjoyed was the sense of place - not just the wild forest but the muddly little logging camps, the sad burnt-out areas on the edges of the forst - everything was sharply focussed and I was totally drawn in to the environment. ( )
  SChant | Jan 30, 2015 |
I really wanted to like this book, because it had a number of elements that normally appeal to me: strong female protagonist, feminism, and an historic setting (in this case, the Pacific Northwest c1900). The main character, a widowed mother of four, sets off to help find a missing child and goes missing herself. Unfortunately, the events that followed seemed a bit far-fetched, and the account of her adventure was interspersed with other writings, making it difficult to make sense of the work as a whole. ( )
  lauralkeet | Aug 21, 2012 |
In “Wild Life” Molly Gloss weaves the remarkable story of Charlotte Bridger Drummond in the early years of the 20th Century. Raising her sons along the Columbia River in a southern Washington state just emerging from frontier status, Mrs. Drummond embraces her husbandless state for the independence it gives her. She harbors resentment for her disappeared husband, and has never quite accepted his presumed death. It pleases her more to left behind and put upon, than let herself don the weeds of a grieving widow.

Charlotte, willfully independent, writes adventure novels about strong, independent, young heroines, and sometimes resents the distraction of trying to raise her five sons. She has help in that area, and in the necessary housework; Melba is her live-in housekeeper and cook, and holds the accepted notions of femininity and motherhood which rule those times. When Melba’s four-year-old granddaughter goes missing at a logging camp to which her father took her, Charlotte leaves home to join the search parties. Here is when the story really takes flight.

Ms. Gloss’s early chapters display a perfect early 20th-Century language and societal attitude through the voice of a dissenter. The early chapters echo Twain throughout. However, the arch and ironical tone slowly fades as Charlotte goes to the wilderness in search of young Harriet, where the necessities of living rough and how the men cope with them come to the fore. The fantasies Charlotte has entertained about heroically finding Harriet in her first couple of days evaporate quickly as the drudgery of the actual search sets in. When Charlotte herself becomes lost in the forest, rough times become absolutely desperate. Lucky for us, Ms. Gloss has given her heroine a supply of paper and pencils so she can keep her sanity in the one way that can give her days structure and her mind her own: she writes. Such is her state that she begins to speculate which day she will die; at this extreme juncture she meets and is adopted by a family of forest primates, of an unknown species, which saves her life.

The interlude of her salvation starts a new flight of introspection in which she must reexamine her notions of family, the differences between the sexes, and the distinction between humans and animals. Ms. Gloss nails these speculations perfectly. Of course, we are forced to consider these issues alongside our heroine; the author shoves her and us toward new subtleties and a new honesty in how we look at the world. These issues are presented in a kind of multi-media format, in which the main body of the narrative is interweaved with contemporaneous news articles, excerpts written by the author before and after her adventure, and long asides about characters. The whole hangs superbly together, and displays the author’s command of news and attitudes, scientific knowledge and thought of the day. More important, however, Ms. Gloss gives us the inward journey of a real human heroine, through harrowing adventure, and the even greater challenge of a changed and refocused heart. The author gives us a remarkable, truly moving work in “Wild Life,” and I urge you to take it up.

http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2011/09/wild-life-by-molly-gloss.html ( )
  LukeS | Sep 24, 2011 |
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Epigraph
There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that. (Genesis 6:4)
Dedication
Pat Zagelow ("For my sister, Pat Zagelow")
First words
April 5, 1999

Sara,

You said you wanted to see the whole thing just as I found it, so it's un-messed with, except I'm the one who rubberbanded it with cardboard.
Sat'y 25 Mar '05


The death of Jules Verne was reported in the morning papers -- a great loss to France and to the world.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0618131574, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:42 -0400)

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