This memorable novel is my introduction to Tea Obreht, and I
read it free and early, thanks to Net Galley and Random House. The combination
of word smithery and whimsy creates the purest literary magic, and I recommend
it to anyone that has a high vocabulary level and stamina. It is for sale now.
The tale takes place just after the American Civil War, and
the narrative is divided between two characters, Lurie and Nora. Lurie begins
his life in Arkansas; he is orphaned early and the man that takes him in is a
grave robber that uses Lurie and other boys to assist him in his nightly plundering.
Lurie grows up hard, fast, and mean; he wishes that he did not see and feel the
dead, but he does, and most of all he senses their cravings. I am immediately drawn by his second person
narrative as he relates his memories to someone named Burke. You don’t see many
writers use the second person, and I am curious as to who Burke is. When I find
out, I am even more fascinated.
Nora is one of the early (Caucasian) Western settlers, and
here Obreht uses the third person omniscient. Nora is unlike any Western protagonist
I have ever read, and it is delightful to see the way this author turns
stereotypes and caricatures squarely upside down. Nora has her hands full,
trying to care for the aged, wheelchair bound Gramma; fighting a political
battle in the press that is run by her husband and sons, none of whom she has
seen lately; and carrying on a running dialogue with the ghost of her daughter
Evelyn, who died in infancy. To add insult to injury she is saddled with Josie,
a relative Emmett insisted they must take in. Nora is carrying a heavy emotional
load, but the slow revelation of the secrets that weigh her down and the way
that these impact the decisions she makes and the way she solves problems is
completely convincing. Whereas Lurie’s
narrative is mostly about setting, Nora’s is about character. Both are rendered
I initially rated this novel 4.5 stars because of a few
small areas where historical revisionism has crept in, but ultimately it is too
fine a work to deny all five stars. I am reluctant to say more because the
surprises start early, so to relate details that occur even twenty percent of
the way in feels like a disservice both to the reader and the writer.
One feature that is present throughout both of the
narratives is thirst, and it’s related so well that I found myself downing
extra water in sympathy and thanking my lucky stars that I live in Seattle
rather than somewhere dusty and drought-stricken. In fact, there are places in
Nora’s narrative where she is busy with other tasks or discussions of an urgent
nature and I find myself telling Nora to just go ahead and ask the person she’s
talking to for a sip of water. Nora won’t do it because she is proud and
self-reliant, and the fact that I am already talking to the character instead
of the author tells you how convincing the story is.
The reader is also advised that it’s a violent, gritty tale,
particularly in the beginning but in other places also, and it’s loaded with
triggers. To tell it otherwise would be to deny history, but if you are a mealtime
reader or avoiding harsh prose for other reasons, it’s worth knowing. But I
also think that the whimsy is all the sweeter for it.
Perhaps one of every ten novels I read becomes that book,
the one that I can’t stop talking about. My spouse understands that to pass
through a room when I am reading it is to guarantee he will be hijacked, at
least momentarily, because I am either going to paraphrase an interesting tidbit or
read a particularly arresting passage out loud. This works well for me, though,
because I find myself with more uninterrupted reading time. Inland is that sort of book. Highly recommended.