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Likely Stories : The New Wilderness, by Diane Cook


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry.

Diane Cook lives in Brooklyn, New York.  She has had a number of short stories to her credit.  Her second novel, The New Wilderness, is a gripping tale.  This story is about a group of people who were moved off of the “City” and forced into a large uninhabited area of wilderness.

Cook’s story begins with a tragedy.  She writes, “The baby emerged from Bea the color of a bruise.  Bea burned the cord somewhere between them and uncoiled it from the girl’s slight neck and, though she knew it was useless, swept her daughter up in to her hands, tapped on her soft chest, and blew a few shallow breaths into her slimy mouth. // Around her, the singular song of crickets expanded.  Bea’s skin prickled from heat.  Sweat dried on her back and face.  The sun had crested and would, more quickly than seemed right, fall again.  From where Bea knelt, she saw their Valley, its secret grasses and sage.  In the distance were lonely buttes and, closer, mud mounds that looked like cairns marking the way somewhere.  The Caldera stood sharp and white on the horizon. // Bea dug into the hard earth with a stick, then a stone, then hollowed and smoothed it with her hands.  She scooped up the placenta into it.  Then the girl” (3).  This is only the beginning of what suffering means to these people.

Diane continues her story, “River 9 moved fast and swelled against its banks, and to the community it looked like a wholly different river from the one they were familiar with.  So different that they had consulted the map again, trying to match the symbols with what was now there and what their memory insisted ought to be there.  They had crossed the river many times since they first arrived in the Wilderness State.  From their encounters with it elsewhere, they even considered it a lazy river, the way it turned tightly back and forth through rocks and dirt from the foothills down across the sagebrush plain.  It had a usual crossing spot that they considered safe, or as safe as a river crossing could be.  But it looked as though a storm had altered the bank and submerged the patch of island where they used to regroup before attempting the far bank.  It was a very helpful little island.  But it was gone now and they could no longer be sure where that fording spot was.  Perhaps the same storm that had kept them on the other side of the mountains since last summer had also made this river” (12).  This passage indicates the difficulty this “Community” faced.

The group also had a number of treasures.  Diane wrote, “The teacup had belonged to Caroline, passed to her through a line of family members who were early settlers in the New World.  It was a ridiculous thing to bring into the Wilderness, but it was fine and pretty with a chipped gold rim” (20-21).  Do you have a clue about what to expect next?  Diane Cooks’ The New Wilderness, is a marvelous story.  5 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production or KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and Happy Reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.