In Other Words In Wilder­ness by Diane Thomas

Pasatiempo - - HAPPENING IN MAY - by Diane Thomas, Diane Thomas reads from “In Wilder­ness” at 3 p.m. on Satur­day, May 2, at Op.Cit. Books (500 Mon­tezuma Ave., 505-428-0321).

Pin­point­ing the mo­ment when chronic pain and ill­ness sets in isn’t easy. Is it a slow build of symptoms un­til one day you re­al­ize you can’t re­mem­ber the last time you felt well, or can you iden­tify a be­fore and af­ter? Nau­sea, lethargy, mus­cle and joint pain, mi­graines, dizzi­ness, con­fu­sion — th­ese are just a few of the daily sen­sa­tions ex­pe­ri­enced by those suf­fer­ing from a wide range of ill­nesses that are of­ten iden­ti­fied by catch-all di­ag­noses like ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome (IBS), fi­bromyal­gia, and mul­ti­ple chem­i­cal sen­si­tiv­ity (MCS). If you have one or more of th­ese con­di­tions, you know the names don’t en­com­pass all of what your body faces. It’s as if your in­sides are al­ways on high alert to re­act ir­ra­tionally to some in­vad­ing army of germs or chem­i­cals that aren’t danger­ous to other peo­ple. Or, con­versely, it seems that your cells and tis­sues re­act to the world too slowly and can’t get rid of what other peo­ple eas­ily process. The busi­ness of daily life makes you sick, and that re­al­ity brings its own set of prob­lems. Do you put on a brave face and shoul­der on in your ca­reer, for in­stance, even though you are in con­stant phys­i­cal mis­ery? Or do you — can you? — opt out and try to find a bet­ter way of cop­ing?

In 1966, the year In Wilder­ness be­gins, th­ese kinds of syn­dromes and dis­eases had no names. Kather­ine Reid, who loses her baby and is then be­set by symptoms of what is now re­ferred to as mul­ti­ple chem­i­cal sen­si­tiv­ity, can’t keep food down. Her doc­tor tells her she has mere months to live be­fore her or­gans give up. Sud­denly hav­ing to deal with her mor­tal­ity, on a whim the fi­nan­cially com­fort­able di­vorcee sells her home and her in­ter­est in her ex-hus­band’s ad­ver­tis­ing agency and moves to a cabin in the moun­tain forests of Ge­or­gia to live out her last days in soli­tude. Also in res­i­dence in the woods is Danny, a twenty-year-old Viet­nam vet­eran with a strict moral code who is com­ing apart psy­cho­log­i­cally. Now he would prob­a­bly be di­ag­nosed with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD), a con­di­tion, caused by pro­longed fear, in which the ner­vous sys­tem’s fight-or-flight mech­a­nism is fun­da­men­tally re­cal­i­brated to over­re­act.

Danny knows Kather­ine has moved to the woods, but she doesn’t know of his ex­is­tence. Though she is old enough to be his mother, Danny falls in love from afar and be­gins stalk­ing her — an­other con­cept that was poorly un­der­stood at the time the novel takes place. Au­thor Diane Thomas asks us to con­sider the dif­fer­ences be­tween cu­rios­ity and ob­ses­sion, lust and anger, and pro­tec­tion and pos­ses­sion. It is easy, even in our best mo­ments, to con­fuse sex­ual and emo­tional in­ti­macy. Once they are in the same room to­gether, the two at­trac­tive moun­taindwelling recluses barely stand a chance of for­go­ing in­volve­ment. Un­for­tu­nately, Kather­ine has no idea how danger­ous Danny’s mind is. He can­not tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween be­nign strangers and mor­tal enemies, and the vo­cab­u­lary with which he thinks about women would or­di­nar­ily re­pel some­one like her. But the dam­aged si­lent type can be ir­re­sistible: a real-live man on which to project a fan­tasy.

Thomas writes with great at­ten­tion to nat­u­ral de­tails and with a deep un­der­stand­ing of the prob­lems with which she’s sad­dled her char­ac­ters. The prose is both lush and mus­cu­lar, steeped un­abashedly in the lan­guage of pas­sion, bor­der­ing some­times on bodice-rippers, though the foun­da­tions of the book are ab­so­lutely lit­er­ary. Thomas doesn’t of­fer iso­la­tion in the wilder­ness as the ul­ti­mate so­lu­tion for ev­ery­one with en­vi­ron­men­tal ill­ness, but she does present it as a tan­ta­liz­ing op­tion. What if we could just lessen our ex­po­sure, lessen the pres­sure, give our bod­ies time to find their nat­u­ral rhythms with­out the con­stant as­sort­ment of chem­i­cals, sights, smells, sounds, and stresses that most peo­ple who have to hold down jobs are bom­barded by? It’s not so dif­fer­ent from the days when peo­ple were sent to re­cover from tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in the clean air of New Mex­ico — but rest cures have fallen out of fash­ion in fa­vor of work, and ill­nesses that can’t be cured by knives or pills are of­ten con­sid­ered char­ac­ter flaws rather than le­git­i­mate med­i­cal prob­lems. Iso­lat­ing one­self from the pry­ing eyes of cap­i­tal­ism in or­der to re­gain health has be­come the stuff of fan­tasy, a love story for the sick body. — Jen­nifer Levin

Ban­tam Books / Ran­dom House, 304 pages

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.