Wilderness, by Lance Weller, Bloomsbury Circus, RRP£12.99, 336 pages
At the centre of Lance Weller’s epic novel Wilderness is Abel Truman, a reclusive Confederate veteran settled in the Pacific Northwest. As the 20th century dawns, Abel decides to make the journey east to revisit the battlefields of the civil war. Pursued by brigands and assailed by traumatic memories, he is shown kindness by Native Americans and later, a black farmer, Glenn Makers, which moves him to reconsider his prejudices.
Although the circumstances of Abel’s redemption seem a little contrived, there is much to savour in this big, bold debut, including Weller’s splendid descriptions of wildlife encountered on the trek (“a whiskey jack flickered between the trunks like a shard of shadow falling through the light”). And for all that his narrative gestures to the social problems of postbellum America, it is here, in the evocation of nature, that one suspects the author’s real ambition lies.
This is a novel in which history’s sound and fury is drowned out at last by the silence of the wilderness.