By Sarah Peruzzi
Courtney Collins’s debut novel The Untold presents characters bound by rope, entombed in dirt, wanted by the law, and shackled to the past. The tale begins in 1910, with the legendary Houdini performing for crowds. Underwater and losing oxygen he struggles to free himself from the chains secured around his neck and legs. Wrapped in weeds and seeking purchase on the sea’s floor, he uncovers the bloated remains of a corpse. Once free and bobbing in the sunlight, with crowds cheering, he “…cannot think of how to explain it or who to tell.”
Which, coincidentally, is how readers will feel after reading Collin’s blur of truth, fiction, and reinvention. Narrated by a murdered newborn child, the characters attempt to escape ghosts, both real and imagined. It’s 1921, and Jessie, an outlaw, horse rustler, circus performer, and altogether unlikely protagonist, cheats life magically. Soon, she finds herself living yet another fiction as the prisoner turned indentured wife of a brutal Cyclops of a man. More anti-hero than heroine, it’s hard not to feel conflicted as one empathizes with a woman ungoverned by natural law.
Walking silent, afraid, bloodied, and alone through Alpine forests, Jessie yearns to “pare herself right back to the bone and pull apart those bones and reconstruct herself again.” It’s that desire for rebirth that resonates. Horses are rebranded, characters brand themselves, misfits form familial clans, but most characters simply falter—unsure of where they fit in the universe. The Untold, Courtney Collins, Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
In The Possibilities, Kaui Hart Hemmings, author of the best selling The Descendants, takes readers to the mountains of Breckenridge, Colorado. Devastated by the avalanche death of her son, Sarah St. John questions if she failed to protect him by simply choosing to live in the mountains. But the despair is epidemic. Visitors to mountain towns often only see the antler-decorated condos, upscale spas, and high-altitude sushi bars. What they don’t see is the lack of affordable housing, endemic drug and alcohol use, and dead-end service jobs. For residents, living in the mountains can come with costs. The novel examines what we’re willing to give up to live surrounded by “…a scene in a snow globe: snow falling peacefully, our miniature world vivid and contained.”
More than that, though, Hemmings exposes the irony of dying while seeking pleasure: “When you go out to have fun, you are supposed to come home.” The Possibilities, Kaui Hart Hemmings, Simon & Schuster
Mind of the Raven
“Why would anyone dream of ravens?” the biologist Bernd Heinrich asks in Mind of the Raven. His answer is presented in a mix of field notes, journal entries, and painstaking observation. In the process, he redefines what we know about the relationship between ravens, wolves, and humans. We learn that our connection to ravens—the smartest bird in North America—is ancient and complex. And no matter how unlikely the raven intelligence anecdote you hear, it’s almost certainly true. “That is because ravens are individuals. Ants aren’t,” Heinrich writes. In the mountains, the raven is often our only companion. Mind of the Raven reminds us that, like the raven, we should learn to see with our eyes—and minds. Mind of the Raven, Bernd Heinrich, HarperCollins
From the Summer 2014 issue.