Monday, March 23, 2020

Inland by Tea Obreht

Inland by Tea Obreht
Read by: Anna Chlumsky, Edoardo Ballerini, and Euan Morton
Published August 2019 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory in 1893, two extraordinary lives collide. Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life—her husband, who has gone in search of water for the parched household, and her elder sons, who have vanished after an explosive argument. Nora is biding her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home.

Lurie is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sees lost souls who want something from him, and he finds reprieve from their longing in an unexpected relationship that inspires a momentous expedition across the West. The way in which Nora’s and Lurie’s stories intertwine is the surprise and suspense of this brilliant novel.

Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history. It showcases all of Téa Obreht’s talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West, making them entirely—and unforgettably—her own.

My Thoughts:
I listened to this book, as you may have noticed from the list of readers; but I don't recommend it. It's not that the readers don't do a fantastic job. They really are incredibly good. But, unless you're sitting on your sofa or just walking and doing nothing else but absorbing what you're listening to, I'm not sure you'll appreciate this book in the way it should be appreciated. At least, I don't think that I did.

There are two excellent stories in this book. Lurie is telling the story of his life to some named "Burke." He is an immigrant from Ottoman Herzegovina who father died when he was just six years old. He spends the rest of his life surrounded by characters who aren't doing him any favors, from Coachman, who has him stealing bodies from graves, to Donovan Mattie with whom he soon becomes an outlaw. Lurie can see the dead and their desires and a marshal who will not give up pursuing him mean that Lurie can never settle down. His life is one of adventure.

Nora's life is not. Although she has felt "unbounded" by her husband's moving them from town to town, she is, when we meet her, settled and is fighting to stay that way. She is fighting with her husband, with her sons, with the bad-guy cattle king who is trying to take everyone's land. The thing is that Nora can't leave Amargo because the spirit of her daughter is there, a spirit Nora talks to regularly; Nora is certain that Evelyn's spirit will not come with her if she has to leave. Nora is not a likable character and you know how fond I'm growing of unlikable characters. She is heartless with her children, rude to her neighbors, and not entirely reliable.
"Nora had gone to considerable lengths to steel herself for the life into which she’d followed [Emmett]. This had required hardening…. Even if she had wanted to remain soft, the work would not allow it. Two people at full strength could barely manage all the chores of a homestead: plowing, sowing, raising fence. And if Desma, if her own mother…were hard women, then Nora must be, too. It must never be said of her that she had succumbed to the trials of her life and had to be gentled back to some easier state of existence."
Unlike some books with dual story lines, I was equally engrossed with both. Will Lurie be caught? What will become of his friend, Hi Jolly? And who is Burke? I'd tell you but you really need to read the book to find out and to learn about how Obreht has used a little known bit if U. S. history to create this part of the book. But then we'd go back to Nora and I really needed to know what secrets she was hiding, where her husband and sons had gone, if she could manage to stop alienating those around her long enough to find water, and what in the world was the deal with the beast her son, Toby, and Emmett's niece, Josey, kept going on about.

Somewhere around half way through the book, though, I began to get antsy about how these two stories would come together. And I waited. And I waited. Guys, the book is almost done before that happens. Then things just start happening at a breakneck pace and the book ends in a way that had me, at the time I listened to it, feeling like Obreht had not been sure how to end it and come up with something of an easy out. On retrospect, I'm not sure that's the case but  then I'm left wondering what in the hell happened at the end? Which, I suppose, is a preferable feeling.

The book is filled with really interesting characters, although I was left wishing that more had been made of some of them. The landscape and settings come alive and I'm not making it up when I tell you that reading about that drought and the family running out of water had me feeling parched. Obreht writes beautifully and I loved her descriptions of people and places. Is it a perfect novel? Maybe not but the more I think about it, the more I like it and the fact that Obreht managed to write a Western that had untraditional central characters, especially Burke.

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