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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about nature as foe, nature as antagonist. Partly this comes from daily news reports of hurricanes that threaten big cities and heat waves that invade even cool, blue Colorado. Partly it comes from living in a bit of suburbia where the native wildlife has not quite given up the land to house dwellers. Coyotes still run along the creek bed adjacent to my running trail and sometimes right down the middle of the paved streets. The sight of a fox in the front yard is a yawner. Just this week my husband alerted me to “carnage in the next door neighbor’s yard.” It was a rabbit, or it had been, though all that was left was an ear, a few tufts of fur, some entrails and a gall bladder. We don’t know if the predator was a coyote or a fox or a stray cat, but I’m guessing the rabbit didn’t care much one way or the other.
Mostly, though, my obsession with nature as antagonist comes from reading books like Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder in which the Amazon offers up snakes capable of strangling men, an assortment of deadly insects and heat that seems to radiate from the page. On the opposite end of the weather spectrum, I just finished Alexi Zentner’s Touch where winter can come on so swiftly that a man might mistake his wife’s frozen body for a familiar boulder beneath the snow. (If you missed Stories on Stage actor John Hutton reading from Zentner’s work at this weekend’s Lighthouse Writers Fly-By Writer event, well, I’m sorry.) Or so cruel as to trap a young man, his pregnant bride, their loyal dog and an odd stranger in an ill-equipped lumber mill for more than six months with dire consequences.
Reading Zentner’s chilling novel during a week of 90-degree temps left me longing for winter, for chilly mornings and dark evenings and, yes, even snow. Interestingly, despite the harsh winters, Zentner’s characters often welcome the change of seasons and are thankful for the cleansing properties of a blanket of snow. I understand. I was raised in a state where rivers flood their banks, hurricanes roll in, and heat and humidity are just part of life. Yet I find myself resenting the heat during these last weeks of summer. (Oh please let it be the last weeks!) So with that in mind, I’m going to seek out stories and novels that are set in chilly climes, brutal ones even.
Tell me what to reach for next. What novel or story collection left you cold in a good way? Give me winter between the covers of a book. Maybe it’ll be enough to tide me over until the real thing gets here.