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THE LAND
by Thomas Maltman
Soho, October 2020
317 pages
$26.00
ISBN: 1641292202


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I remember 1999 and the strange obsession so many had about the turn of the century portending an end of civilization as we knew it. And I remember the Weavers and the Ruby Ridge incident as the first white supremacist stand-off that made huge news (or perhaps it was just the first that I knew of). But my mind hadn't ever conflated the two events into one story. This is exactly what Maltman does so expertly in this atmospheric, apocryphal novel.

Lucien Swenson, a computer game developer, has retreated to an isolated house after a life-threatening, life-changing, accident. The house, in rural Minnesota, is near a compound of white supremacists where he hopes to find out what happened to his missing lover, Maura. As Lucien stumbles through his days, full of pain both physical and psychological, he begins to spend time at the compound. A mysterious woman named Arwen, arriving at the house and claiming to be the owners' long-lost daughter, appears while the natural world seems to upend itself.

The spiritual overtones to all that Lucien experiences are extremely well-written, and they invade his understanding of his relationship with the missing Maura, what he experiences at the compound, and his own sense of self. Reality and unreality swirl around one another, as Lucien both sinks into the depths of his pain and rises above it in dreamlike sequences. His past with Maura, his present with Arwen, his descent into the religious supremacist group, the manner in which natural events become very unnatural, and the fictional world he is creating in his game merge and pull apart in waves.

There is a great deal of violence centered around the compound, where Lucien learns about both himself and what happened to Maura. Lucien is a very nuanced character as are a few of those in supporting roles. However, I found that Maura was so much in the background with her motivation unclear that Lucien's willingness to put himself in such danger to find out what happened to her was hard to believe. But then, there is much in this book that is hard to believe and yet feels profound.

This is the first book by Maltman that I've read, but it won't be the last. The beautiful writing, the somewhat gothic and yet ethereal atmosphere, the intense dreamlike quality of some of the scenes, the vivid descriptions of landscape, and the strong plotting: taken together they make this an exceptional read.

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in Arizona.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, December 2020

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