by Diane Thomas
published by Random House
I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer Program in exchange for an honest review.
In Wilderness is strange and dark, but totally captivating. It pulled me in and made it impossible to concentrate on anything else. This is the story of Katherine Reid, who suffered a miscarriage in 1962, after being exposed to pesticides sprayed on the trees in her neighborhood. Her marriage crumbles and her health slowly deteriorates. Four years later, she is informed by her third doctor that her body is shutting down for unknown reasons and that she has 2-3 months to live. She sells her business and home and moves into a small stone cabin in the North Georgia mountains to die alone. But she is not alone. Danny, a young Vietnam veteran, had been living in that cabin before her and is unhappy someone had moved in. He retreats to a burnt out mansion nearby, and watches Katherine, who he calls the Dead Lad, from the woods. He can see she is ill, as he is himself. He can no longer be in society and has taken to hide away. Bot of these characters are struggling with illnesses that had not been recognized yet- Environmental Illness and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Away from the modern world, Katherine actually begins to recover, which she cannot believe. Only going back into town leave her feeling sick again, so she remains in the woods as much as possible- growing her own vegetables and chopping firewood. Danny eventually becomes fixated on Katherine and they enter into a strange and warped relationship.
In Wilderness is a beautifully written book, filled with darkness, suffering, wonder and love.
In the winter of 1966, Katherine Reid receives a shattering diagnosis. Debilitated by a terminal and painful illness, Katherine moves to an isolated cabin deep in Georgia’s Appalachian Mountains. There, with little more than a sleeping bag, a tin plate, and a loaded gun, she plans to spend the few short months remaining to her in beautiful but desolate solitude. Her isolation brings her peace, until the day she realizes the woods are not as empty as she believed. A heartbeat in the darkness. Breathing in the night. Katherine is not alone. Someone else is near, observing her every move.
Twenty-year-old Vietnam veteran Danny lives in the once-grand mansion he has dubbed “Gatsby’s house.” Haunted by the scars of war and enclosed by walls of moldering books, he becomes fixated on Katherine. What starts as cautious observation grows to an obsession. When these two lost souls collide, the passion that ignites between them is all-consuming—and increasingly dangerous.
Suffused with a stunning sense of character and atmosphere, Diane Thomas’s intimate voice creates an unforgettable depiction of the transformative power of love, how we grieve and hope, and the perilous ways in which we heed and test our hearts.
About the Diane Thomas
My second novel, In Wilderness, a literary thriller inspired in part by the haunting southern Appalachian folk ballads of violence and erotic obsession, was also my first. I wrote it in 1981 to distract myself from fears of dying, during an extended period of extreme ill health. I titled this early version The Clearing, gave my symptoms to its protagonist, and sent her into a Georgia mountain wilderness to either die or heal.
Before moving to New Mexico in 2009, I’d lived in Atlanta and north Georgia since age four, except for two years in New York earning an MFA in Theater and Film History and Criticism at Columbia University. I hold a BA in English from Georgia State University and have worked as a reporter for The Atlanta Constitution, now the AJC. In 1966, at 24, I became the nation’s youngest major-newspaper entertainment editor, reviewing local plays, interviewing national film and theatre celebrities (including directors Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, and Elia Kazan, and actors Susan Hayward, Carol Channing, and Michael Caine), and reviewing such iconic films as “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Midnight Cowboy,” and “Blow Up.” I later joined Atlanta, then a controversial, pioneering city magazine. By the time I fell ill, I had become successful as a freelance writer.
Though nominated for the Pushcart Editors Prize, The Clearing was never published. My illness abated, I resumed my freelance career fulltime, studied in Georgia State’s Creative Writing program, and in 2002 completed The Year the Music Changed: The Letters of Achsa McEachern-Isaacs and Elvis Presley (The Toby Press, 2005). This coming-of-age novel enjoyed critical success and, for a small-press book, respectable sales.
In 2009, my husband and I moved to New Mexico. Homesick for the Georgia mountains, where we’d spent much of the previous seven years, I completely rewrote The Clearing, retitled it In Wilderness, and never dreamed anyone would publish it, since no one had before. A Santa Fe friend talked me into looking for an agent anyway and, miracle of miracles, I found one and she found a publisher for my book.
In Wilderness came out in March 2015 from Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, seven weeks before my 73rd birthday. It was names an “Amazon Best Book” for March 2015, was recommended by Library Journal for “readers who also like the raw, honest writing of Amy Bloom and Amanda Coplin,” and endorsed by Lee Child as “Altogether spectacular.”