My fondness for survival stories began as a wee lad with a reading of “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. It taught me that a hatchet can be the difference between starving in the woods and having a pretty cool and readable time. Naturally, when I’m inspired to take the air in the wilderness, I always have a suitcase full of hatchets in tow. This allows me to not only to thrive like a fictional boy if I get lost, but also, due to its weight, keeps me from straying too far into the wild.
So when I saw that Daniel Woodrell and Jennifer Egan were among those gushing about a recently published survival novel, I was eager to read it so that I may be entertained and perhaps learn about a new tool I could fill a bag with so that I may be additionally fortified against the more daunting portions of this world. But “Kingdomtide” by Rye Curtis didn’t gift its survivor with anything nearly as useful as a hatchet. Rather, Cloris, shortly after a plane crash that killed the other two passengers (the pilot and her husband of more than 50 years), attempts to make her way through the wilderness with the aid of little more than a handful of caramel candies and her dead husband’s boot (plus the water inside it). Fortunately for her, someone begins leaving animal corpses near her while she sleeps, which prevents her from starving. Unfortunately for her, this meat dispenser is hiding from the world for a reason, and he wears a t-shirt over his face like a mask, which is a very creepy thing to see in the woods, much like the mountain lion that only walks backwards and also appears to Cloris.
Cloris narrates her portions of the novel from 20 years past the ordeal. (More narrators should be over 90: they have so much stuff to narrate!) Alternating with Cloris’s chapters are ones that center on the park ranger who refuses to give up the search. Ranger Lewis is recently divorced. Her husband is in prison for trigamy. She drinks way too much Merlot. While I’d agree with reviewers who believe that Cloris’s sections are superior, that’s more of a compliment to Cloris than a criticism of the novel. After all, without the sections about Ranger Lewis, you’d miss out learning about the ghost that allegedly roams the park (and its tragic origins) and the lady who makes disgusting sculptures by fishing through dumpsters for thoroughly used materials. These sections are a big part of the reason you’ll see this novel compared to the films of the Coen Brothers.
Reading survival stories often teaches you a thing or two about how to survive in inhospitable situations, but while I won’t pass up a pocketful of caramels or a boot full of water, mostly what this novel taught me was that it was a pleasure to read (and maybe also some stuff that literature professors or philosophers would like to talk about, but I’m just a gentleman with a suitcase full of hatchets, a garbage bag full of caramels and a fondness for a good yarn).