Thursday, June 16, 2016

Read: "Lost Canyon" by Nina Revoyr

Read: Lost Canyon by Nina Revoyr, 2015, 9781617753534.

Like a loyal Cheesehead Revoyr sticks some Green Bay Packers fans in here. I read Wingshooters in 2012 when I was on the state literary awards committee. After I read that novel I discovered Revoyr also wrote crime novels and I am now getting around to reading one - even if this novel was published after Wingshooters. Hey, I could have used a semicolon there, right?

Anyhoo. Gwen works in South Central Los Angeles. Her nonprofit job is working with local teens to help them succeed in school and prepare for work and adult life. She has made friends with Tracy, her personal trainer, and joined Tracy on several day hikes in the hills around Los Angeles. She is now joining Tracy and a few other people for a hike in the mountains northeast of LA.

Gwen has never done any overnight camping and is a bit worried and intimidated. But, so are Oscar and Todd. Our third person perspective takes turns with each character. Gwen is black and has always been a little chubby, and the others think her a weak link. Oscar is a self-made realtor but a tough market means he is coasting on his past sales successes. Todd is a transplant from Oconomowoc, WI (I have to go to a meeting there tomorrow) who came to CA for law school and married into a wealthy family. Tracy wants adventure and excitement. For Tracy a good time requires surprise and danger and this clouds her judgment during their trip.

There is a some racial and class tension in the group. Oscar grew up in a working class Hispanic neighborhood. Gwen is black and her mother was absent for most of Gwen's life. Todd is a wealthy white guy who rolls his eyes at talk about white supremacists. Tracy is half Japanese and naturally feisty. They all carry unfounded opinions about one another.

The group arrives to the park's ranger station and find out that forest fires have closed off the area of the park they were to hike. A Ranger says, "Here, try this route out. It's outside the park but beautiful." They take the Ranger's hand drawn map, drive down some rough logging roads, and hit the trail.

The scenery is beautiful. The hikers adjust to the altitude, pack weight, and new boots. The hikers enjoy the scenery and get used to each other's company. The hikers are bushwhacked by a teenage Mexican boy with a gun. The hikers have stumbled on a marijuana field and the Mexican kid is neeeeervous at these interlopers. The Mexican kid uses a sat phone to call his bosses and Oscar hears enough to tell everyone, "They're going to kill us and this kid has people on the way to do it."

Things look bad until a hole appears in Mexican kid's forehead. Up pops a rifle carrying white guy with a seemingly happy go lucky attitude. Things look bad again after White Guy does some racial-slur-name-calling and says he is there to protect his own dope field. "Don't you [slurs] run away now, I'll shoot you dead."

Hikers escape White Guy and, with little gear, head East to get back into the park and find help. The book continues on as a wilderness adventure with the four hikers low on food, low on water, and gradually whittled down by weather and other dangers.

An epilogue ties everything up but I think it took the novel 20 pages too far.

1. I say that "judgment" should have an "e" in it.
2. Revoyr has some nice writing about hiking and gear and the sights, sounds and smells of going on a multi-day trek. If I were writing something like this I know I would have missed the little details she puts in about boots, socks, chafing, bear bags, etc. Those details were great reminders to me about trips I took years ago.
3. Speaking of which, in April I attended the Boy Scout's Backpack Camporee with Boy #1. The Camporee does not have much hiking. There are several classes throughout Saturday on hiking and outdoor skills. One presenter was a minimalist camper who takes one set of clothes, a rain tarp, and a mini alcohol stove. I'd like to try a weekend campout this summer but don't know if I'll get to it. I will need some mosquito netting if I wanna try that guy's method.
3. Book Club style question. Why doesn't Revoyr spend time inside Tracy's head? Why tell the story through the three novices?
4. The agony of false summits. You endure a long hike upwards and find that the summit you had your eyes on is just a small plateau before another set of switchbacks.

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