“We were bound up, you and I…Though it break our hearts, we had as little choice then as we have now.”
This is one of those books that I’ve been dreading writing the review for because nothing I say can really convey what makes it so great. I like literary fiction, but it’s rare that I will pick up anything that’s straight up literature. This particular book interested me for two reasons: the historical, western context, and the promise of supernatural elements.
Inland doesn’t disappoint on either front. The story follows two main characters, Lurie of the Mattie gang, and Nora Lark of a small town called Amargo, in the Arizona territory. It isn’t until the very end that the reader comes to understand how and why these two stories are being told side by side. That’s all I’m saying about that because it’s just better that you know nothing going in.
This is a character driven story, with Nora’s part of it happening over (I think) the course of one day, from morning to night. She often reminisces on things that happened in the past, her relationship with her husband and people in the town, the birth and lives of her children, etc. These parts can be very slow, but they all contribute to painting the picture of Nora’s life and the people in it.
Life in Arizona isn’t easy and every day has been a struggle. There are a few supernatural elements to her story as well. Her niece-by-marriage, Josie, is a medium, conducting seances with the dead, and her son Toby has been seeing a strange beast roaming their land. Nora believes both things are just figments of wild imaginations.
“And what did you ever learn from me–save to keep to yourself, and look over your shoulder?”
In contrast to Nora, we have Lurie. He’s a Turkish immigrant that is orphaned as a child and eventually falls in with the Mattie gang. He gets on the wrong side of the law early in the book and we follow his story as he runs from Marshall Berger and from his past. Lurie also has a supernatural ability to see and speak to the dead. If they touch him, he feels their last wants, and they consume him as his own needs.
The contrast in their stories is brilliant. Between the two of these characters, it’s easy to assume Lurie would be the least likable, and that the reader would come to care deeply for Nora, the struggling, “innocent”, ranch-wife. But Obreht brilliantly turns this assumption on it’s head by making Nora the more unlikeable of the two. She can sometimes be cruel to those around her, including her husband and children, but most of all her niece, and she holds some clear prejudices against the local native population. Meanwhile, Lurie proves himself to be a man capable of caring deeply for others, and a man, maybe, searching for redemption.
“The longer I live…the more I have come to understand that extraordinary people are eroded by their worries while the useless are carried ever forward by their delusions.”
Despite it’s slow pacing, the book is so hard to put down. Different little mysteries are introduced along the way, while other interesting little connections and reveals are being made (not between Nora and Lurie, but within the narrative of each of their separate lives). Different story elements and characters in the story return at the most unexpected times, keeping the reader surprised throughout. It’s a dramatic story that feels perfectly mundane, and I’m still in awe of it.
Lurie’s parts are written in second person, though I won’t tell you who he is addressing. The writing itself is gorgeous. It isn’t as impactful as say, The Mere Wife, but it’s emotional, and often left me feeling a little wistful. By the end of it, I was in tears.
This review has probably rambled on for far too long already, and I haven’t remotely done the book justice. Just know if any part of this story or review appeals to you at all, it’s well worth picking up and reading through to the end, where the reveals and realizations will surprise and haunt you for a long time to come. Thank you to the publisher for providing an ARC for review.