perhaps you will observe that this book is under 200 pages and you will think to yourself, “my word! what a short book! i will read it quickly and be able to make some headway towards my reading goal for the year!”
this… is not the book for that.
yes, it is a book short in length, but it is a deliberate, descriptive book with very little dialogue, and it needs to be savored and sat with — rushing it will only ruin its mood, and in this book, mood and atmosphere are the dominant features, more central than character or even plot.
obviously there is a plot, there are characters — it’s the story of a young woman’s gradual healing after a sexual assault causes her to retreat from her life; switching colleges, moving from the city of philadelphia to the woods of rural vermont, becoming skittish and self-protectively removed from society — her only company a pair of cats and the little boy she babysits, until she meets a hiker, his dog, and the titular bobcat, and is drawn out of her fear and isolation back towards companionship, trust, and recovery.
but it’s a slow-dawning journey, and there’s a lot to absorb.
the natural world, particularly the nurturing aspects of the natural world, is the primary focus, and the events of the novel unfold mirroring nature’s steady, inevitable timetable. there is much in laurelie and in her tentative relationship with the hiker that suggests the woods’ atmosphere of hushed suspension, a sense of things stirring beneath the soil, both restless and inexorable.
the writing is gorgeous and vivid, and i especially love the way riley describes laurelie’s art — it made not-so-artsy-fartsy me really want to see these pieces realized. but even the most familiar situations are made all fresh and shiny when laurelie’s artist’s view of the world combines with riley’s thick prose:
… her vision broadened again, deluging her with an accumulation of fresh detail. The motions of the hiker’s fingers opening the other package. The angle his neck made bent, as he worked his way in a few starved bites through one half of the enormous sandwich it contained. The depth of umber where his elbow creased as he folded the rest of it carefully away, and the rigid climb of muscle up his sleeve when he stuck his hand through the open truck window and pulled out a new canvas ball. Already the dog was scrambling to its feet and tearing away down the lane, and now she perceived what she hadn’t before, that these were the first intricate steps of a ballet. Dog running, hiker waiting, timing it before throwing the ball so low and fast that it shot past the dog and struck the ground exactly a foot ahead, and then the dog snapping it up without ever breaking stride and circling back to drop it at the hiker’s feet.
it is a damn good debut, reminiscent in many ways of All the Birds, Singing, and i’m looking forward to reading more by this author — and seeing laurelie’s art pieces made into their own book, please!