Behind Picketwire by M. Day Hampton
Not your usual love story
This book is going to be complicated to review, for the simple fact that it is too easy to give away spoilers. Indeed, especially towards the end, even the tiniest detail is a spoiler!
But I will start with this – as soon as Red had his fall, this was one of the few times that I wanted to skip to the end, to see what happened to him. I resisted the urge and in many ways I’m glad I did, as the ending is too strong and would have spoilt the rest. Instead, I stuck with it, with Red and the dog(s) (minor spoiler), on their journey through the wilderness.
In some ways, this could be classified as Dystopian – a world where people, law, order, the modern world, has all disappeared. It’s like a One Man and His Dog version of The Land Before Time. There’s just the wilderness, with all of nature as it once was and could be again.
So, considering it all, even before starting, we know that Red has to be in some dream-like state. Is it a coma? Is he already dead? Will he wake up? All those questions are hard to tell, as the book trundles slowly on. And yes, I did find it a slow read. I think probably because for the first part of the book, it did move slowly. It makes it hard in that the only dialogue is between Red and his dog, or random into the wilderness, or memories. Yes, there are many flashbacks, that help us understand Red better as he starts to understand himself better, too, from his childhood to more recent memories. He sees his triumphs, but he also sees his faults, and wonders why he couldn’t have been a better person at the moments when it mattered. He knows that he cared in those moments, yet was unable to show it better. Regrets, yet rediscovering the love that he moves forward to refind.
Not everything goes to plan in the wilderness. When he does finally set off, with such certainty of where he has to go, where he will find his wife again, between disasters and durability, he somehow finds his way forward.
Once you get into the final thirty percent of the book, the ending can be seen coming. Yet, somehow, you still hope for more.
So, we know what happens to Red, right at the end, yet what about Jake? And who was his coyote companion, he named Lady?
Another note is that there are Christian elements throughout, but in such a casual way as to not be overbearing. I appreciate a book that can give insights into someone’s religious, or semi-religious life, without trying to preach to you or force it down your throat (unfortunately I’ve had a few of the bad kind of late). This is pretty safe for anyone, no matter their spiritual- or non-beliefs.
On the whole, this is a book that deserves forbearance. When the emotional moments come, they are overpowering. In between is a journey that is far more than it first seems.
Final rating: ★★★★☆ – Really liked