Benjamin Percy set his first novel, The Wilding, in modern-day central Oregon, where developers turn wilderness into golf resort developments. Who knows what message, if any, the author intended. My take? It’s a rumination about the taming of man and nature wrapped in a pretty good adventure story reminiscent of Deliverence.
Justin Cave is a schoolteacher and domesticated husband. Although Justin married the love of his young life, sexual passion is in the rear view mirror with nothing on the horizon except more years of raising their 12-year-old son, Graham. Justin’s dad is a fearless man who works outdoors, maintains his hunting skills, and can butcher venison steaks. Justin, on the other hand, grades papers and can’t even master grilling, the last vestige of manliness in suburbia. A subplot involves a marine, damaged from military service in Iraq, who becomes obsessed with Justin’s fit wife Karen. He, too, is inept around modern women. But never mind him. Justin, his father, and Graham venture off to Echo Canyon to enjoy its last days before the bulldozers attack it. On the trip, the men confront life-threatening challenges. Will the stubborn old man save the day or get them killed? What’s a worse fate for Justin: death or getting pussy-whipped for not handling his son as would Karen? Can there be one last grizzly bear in Oregon? If they do survive, how will it change Justin’s standing with his loved ones. And what happened to Boo, the dog?
The Wilding got me thinking about societal changes over the past couple of generations. Most of us sit with our computers. Except for sports, most men do not confront physical challenges. Kids, like Graham, start thumbing their mobile video games at an early age and many don’t bother with sports, anymore. Fewer, still, learn the manly arts of shooting or hunting. Why bother with the physical world? The online world provides for our needs — and faster — so we can return to our online addictions, whether they be Facebook, Huffington Post, or ESPN. Is this evolution or devolution? Thinking about that makes me want to end the post and go outside to the land of fragrant junipers, rocky canyons, and cold, rushing rivers depicted so accurately and vividly by Benjamin Percy in The Wilding.