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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-08-27
- Reviewer: Staff
In Geye’s second novel, Odd Eide is born of a crime into difficult late-19th-century rural Minnesota and orphaned within days. But the real tragic figures in this dour, detached novel are the women in Odd’s life: his mother, a young Norwegian immigrant living in a crude logging camp; and Rebekah, who helps raise Odd in his adoptive home. When Odd comes of age, he and Rebekah, several years apart, fall in love and leave backwater Gunflint behind. The complex and ambivalent Rebekah helps compensate for the frustrating muddiness that characterizes much of this novel. Geye is a thoughtful writer, but his constant shifts between 1896 and 1920, possibly intended to induce tension that the plot doesn’t merit, slow the characters’ development and prompt readers to stop caring. Of little assistance here is the annoyingly earnest Odd, who Geye (Safe From the Sea) places at the novel’s center. The story concerns his redemption, but he has done little to need or earn it in comparison to Rebekah or his mother. After a too-long struggle with good bones but inadequate flesh, the novel draws to an appropriately weary ending. Agent: Laura Langlie. (Oct.)
A winter tale
Minnesota author Peter Geye’s engaging second novel, following 2011’s Safe from the Sea, is also set in northern Minnesota, near the rugged shores of Lake Superior. The plot shifts back and forth in time from the late 1800s to the 1920s, focusing on Thea Eide—who is just 17 in 1895 when she leaves Norway for America to find a better life—and Odd, her son, born a year later. Thea arrives on Ellis Island and makes the long trip to the small town of Gunflint, Minnesota, outside of Duluth, where she is to be met by her aunt and uncle. She’s told that her aunt has hung herself, and her uncle has gone mad—but is taken under the benevolent wing of Hosea Grimm, who runs the local apothecary. Geye adroitly weaves together the stories of Hosea and his adopted daughter Rebekah with that of Thea and Odd, gradually revealing the ways in which their lives continue to intersect over decades.
The environment itself plays a huge role in Geye’s captivating story. The dark and brooding Northwoods, the rivers frozen in winter, the weeks of subzero days in the logging camp, the sudden storms whipping up on Lake Superior—all contribute to an atmosphere that makes the novel come alive. As with Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, readers will feel as if they are experiencing the nature that Geye paints for them first-hand.