Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The High Divide

Title:  The High Divide
Author:  Lin Enger
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2014. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1616203757 / 978-1616203757

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Respect where it's due, now that's one thing. But listen here - don't be quick to look up to a man who seems to take pleasure in your looking up to him."

The time is 1886. The setting is the great plains of Minnesota. Ulysses and Gretta Pope are eking out a living with their sons Eli and Danny. One morning, Gretta awakens to find Ulysses gone. He leaves behind a note with few words, "a chance for work, hard cash." Weeks later, there is no word.

Without his mother's permission, Eli goes in search of his father. He intends to go alone, but Danny pursues him and won't be left behind. They have nothing much to go on except their father's note and a letter to their father from a woman. Along the way, they meet with danger and with kindness. Ultimately, Gretta too goes after her boys.

What do they find? Why does Ulysses truly leave? What discoveries lie upon this journey? Will Ulysses, Gretta, Eli, and Danny find their way home and be a family again?

From Gretta, Eli, and Danny's perspective, Ulysses leaves because "We're not enough for you - Mom, Danny, me." What force is strong enough to pull a man away from a family who loves him and whom he loves? Gretta and Eli shockingly learn that there are parts of Ulysses' past that he has kept hidden from them. His reason for leaving have to do with a his quest to redeem that past.

From Ulysses' perspective, he loves his family, but "no matter what he has, there are things a man can't leave behind, things beyond him. That's right and wrong...". For Ulysses, these things are memories of his past and events that he wishes he could undo or at least forgive himself for.

The High Divide is about a man in danger - from the wilderness he finds himself in and even more so from his own guilt and emotions. It is about a family in danger - from the dire economic straits in which they find themselves, from the sometimes hostile environment and from the secrets they hold from each other. The different perspectives from Ulysses, Gretta, and Eli each provide an aspect of the story - a man buried in guilt, a woman feeling betrayed and abandoned, and a child trying to hold his family together. Through the story, the book also brings to light a history of the plains - the treatment of the American Indians, the impact of expansion on the land and the people, and the destruction of the animal herds. These book seamlessly blends these elements into the story of the Pope family.

This is very quietly powerful story. It seems like a slow moving narrative, but I find myself wrapped up in this family and in the glorious vistas of setting. Nothing much seems to happen, but huge physical and emotional distances are crossed. The story seems vast and quiet on the surface much like its Plains setting. Yet, simmering underneath, is a sea of emotions - love, guilt, betrayal. and forgiveness.

Life in the 1800s Minnesota is not one I can envision living in. The book paints a hauntingly beautiful picture of the time and the place and brings me completely into that world. The characters and the emotions, however, are much more universal such that I find myself feeling the emotions of the characters. Our past makes each one of us the person we are today; one decision at one point of time can have an impact throughout our lives. The quest to undo mistakes of our past and to seek redemption makes for a powerful and a very real story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment