Lance Weller’s eloquent award-winning historical fiction Wilderness tells the story of an old man in his last days on the rugged most western coastal tip of Washington State. While searching for his dog, he reminisces about his experiences in the Civil War, and in particular, the events during the terrible 1864 battle, now called “The Wilderness.”
Shannon Polson’s beautiful and moving North of Hope describes a journey to Alaska to retrace the events surrounding her father and step-mother’s death from an attack by a grizzly bear. Shannon is also an accomplished musician and the work’s structure celebrates with her reflections Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor.
The event coordinator, Rebecca Willow, selected the three of us because of similarities in our books. One theme that she noted was the influence of the environment on our work. Another was the importance of animal spirits, particularly the bear, in our stories.
One very interesting question from the audience queried about how grief was addressed in our works. Briefly summarizing what I heard from Lance and Snannon: in Wilderness, the protagonist Abel Truman (Everyman) flees from his grief, and is pursued by it to the bitter tip of the continent. He looks back over his shoulder at it as it comes at him again and again and then finally faces it.
In North of Hope, by retracing the journey to the death scene and relating it to Requiem, the very real and brave Shannon Huffman Polson is confronting it and embracing with enormous largesse her own grief.
My answer for Widow Walk is that its heroine, Emmy Evers, has suspended her grief in order to get some very important things done. She first must preserve what remains of her family. In this journey she is doing an insane, prudent thing. Would not any of us do that?
It occurred to me during that discussion how often we absolutely have no other option but to do just that. To survive as health care givers in the emergency room environment and in many other forms of public service, one must quickly learn the process of “de-empathization” – i.e., the displacement of feelings and self, so that one can maintain objectivity and enough balance to remain functional. In Isthmus (due summer of 2014) and Orphan Train (working title) of book II and III of the The Widow Walk Saga, our Emmy must find a way to finally confront and settle her own grief.
The session continued for over two and a half hours. I really encourage you to read Wilderness and North of Hope, and also visit Parkplace Books (www.parkplacebookskirkland.com) which hosts similar lively events on a regular basis.