Man on the Move
by Joyce H. Brusin
Yearning Wild: Exploring the Last Frontier and the Landscape of the Heart
When Glendon Brunk was growing up in the middle of the twentieth century he dreamed of escaping the cultivated Indiana fields that surrounded him and lighting out for the unpopulated wilds of Alaska. Nearly thirty years after realizing that dream, he comes to understand that his yearning for the isolation of the wilderness was rooted in a spiritual and psychological need to understand his origins and his character.
Combining memoir with travelogue and environmental essay, Brunk writes of what he came to love in Alaska and what he came to abandon in himself. His writing reveals a fervent love for the natural world, coupled with a nearly familial sense of responsibility toward the landscapes and animals he portrays. "There is a tundra plain up along the Arctic Ocean," he writes, ... I would like to take you there. Perhaps we'll see an old boar, grizzled, frenzied, and angry in the hunt. We'll watch him tear up yards of tundra in a quest for parka squirrels. He will smell our human stink, swivel around hard, and rear up onto his hind legs. Through nearsighted eyes he will stare at us, nostrils flaring. His front legs bat the air, as if sorting and rejecting the scents that carry on it. The silver hair of his back riffles like waves in the wind. In his ferociousness for living, if we're open to feeling, we might begin to sense something infinitely large at work in the universe."
It is a sense of something larger than himself that sustains Brunk through his years as husband, father, pipeline worker, sled-dog racer, wildlife biologist and, finally, writer. He does not flinch from recounting his confusion or his role in violence and destruction. Nor does he neglect to mention the small pleasures of life in the far north, such as his winter practice of hitching an aging race dog to his school-age daughter's sled to take her the mile to the nearest bus stop. "When the bus came, Cara would turn Bubbles and the sled loose, and Bubbles would double-time it for home, eager to get back to the fire, the little sled careening along behind."
Honeymoon and other stories
Characters who receive numerous reprieves but experience few ultimate resolutions inhabit these eleven stories. They are individuals who find themselves making choice after choice in a world that offers them little direction and less reward.
In "Aquarium," Olive, a recovering cocaine addict, accompanies her teenage nephew around Seattle, intending to discourage his burgeoning drug abuse with cautionary tales of her own. Her resolution fades and Olive finds herself following her nephew to destinations of his choice. "Then they're in a Chinese restaurant the size of an airline terminal, a dim room, red as the inside of a womb, and nobody is over thirty, everybody is smoking and nobody is ugly except the ones who make themselves ugly on purpose.... I don't belong here," thinks Olive. But she cannot abandon her weaknesses, even as she continues to rebuke herself for indulging them.
In the coming-of-age story "Red Dress," a man remembers his role as a young bartender at one of the frequent parties given by his suburban parents. His suspicions and realizations about the evening center on the red dress his mother wore. In the end his mother helps him keep his own secrets; her choice costs them their future as mother and son. "But we never spoke about it ... never spoke openly to each other again. She was still my mother, I was still her son. But everything after that was in code, ambiguous, the silences full of unasked questions, the words empty of answers. And now I am grown, and my mother is dead, and my father is dead. And this is all the childhood I will ever have."
The characters in these stories all wish for more than what they have. Their search for something more may be ill-timed or hidden under layers of sarcasm; it may be misbegotten and prove unlucky. But it is what propels them forward toward the next blind curve in the road.
Last Year's River
Certain eras in American history are endowed with more romanticism than others. After the close of World War I, when the walking wounded had not yet fully returned from the trenches of France, the nineteenth century lingered on in dress, habit, and social decorumeven while the neighborhood speak-easy enlivened night life. The twentieth century beckoned with automobiles, planes, and denser settlement of the American West.
Set in Wyoming in 1924, this first novel brings to life the myriad contrasts of an era that has long nourished American literature.
When seventeen-year-old Virginia Price comes from New York to stay on the Mohr ranch outside Cody, she is pregnant as the result of a rape. Accompanied by her aging great-aunt, Virginia is not expected to adapt to ranch life any more than necessary during her short stay away from home. In Henry Mohr, the family's twenty-four-year-old son, haunted by the deaths of his comrades in the war, Virginia finds a kindred spirit who believes in her determination to transcend her circumstances and stake out a life apart from the censures and limited expectations of her family. She, in turn, responds to his quiet watchfulness and resourceful skill at living. Their bond is sealed early on when they escape the flare-up of a forest fire together. Virginia watches Henry's reaction after he has guided her out of the trees: "He looks tired. She has seen him sweated through his shirt, cold-shoeing horses in the corral, and she has watched him spend six hours in the heat of the day splitting knot-grained firewood with a hammer and maul, but this is the first time she's seen his hand tremble as it brings a cigarette to his mouth. The first time his eyes have taken such a long moment to open after his sleeve chases the sweat from his face."
As summer moves to winter, Henry and Virginia's story unfolds in cinematic detail. It is a story that encompasses the America of its age, a Wyoming of towns and traplines, and the timeless edicts of love and family.
Books in brief
Editor's Note: With this issue of the Montanan, we begin a new way of covering books published by UM faculty and alumni. In addition to the books we are able to review, we will briefly list other works. Our general criteria for inclusion here is that the book be published by a reputable publishing house, have literary merit, and be of relatively general interest to our readership. Space limitations do not allow for us to cover the many tomes published by our prolific readership. We are not likely to include "how-to" books unless they appeal to a wide audience, faculty textbooks, or works with narrowly defined or technical subject matter.
Betting on the Night
Breath in Every Room
Decolonization of Algeria
Dinosaurs Under the Big Sky
West of Paradise