Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pg. 69: Lin Enger's "Undiscovered Country"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Lin Enger's Undiscovered Country.

About the book, from the publisher:
Unaware that his life is about to change in ways he can't imagine, seventeen-year-old Jesse Matson ventures into the northern Minnesota woods with his father on a cold November afternoon. Perched on individual hunting stands a quarter-mile apart, they wait with their rifles for white-tailed deer. When the muffled crack of a gunshot rings out, Jesse unaccountably knows something is wrong-and he races through the trees to find his dad dead of a rifle wound, apparently self-inflicted.

But would easygoing Harold Matson really kill himself? If so, why?

Haunted by the ghost of his father, Jesse delves into family secrets, wrestles with questions of justice and retribution, and confronts the nature of his own responsibility. And just when he's decided that he alone must shoulder his family's burden, the beautiful and troubled Christine Montez enters his life, forcing him to reconsider his plans.

In spare, elegant prose, Lin Enger tells the story of a young man trying to hold his family together in a world tipped suddenly upside down. Set among pristine lakes and beneath towering pines, Undiscovered Country is at once a bold reinvention of Shakespeare's Hamlet and a hair-bristling story of betrayal, revenge, and the possibilities of forgiveness.
Among the early praise for the novel:
"At once both otherworldly and shockingly real, Undiscovered Country reinvents the conundrum of love and loss facing a modern-day Hamlet. This first novel by Lin Enger is sincerely rendered and honestly invoked. Such results promise more to come."
--Tom Bailey, author of The Grace That Keeps This World

"Lin Enger starts Undiscovered Country with a literal bang and continues to ratchet up the tension. His characters are vivid and complex, and his descriptions of northern Minnesota in winter are astonishing. This retelling of a Shakespearean tragedy is powerful and engrossing."
--Larry Watson, author of Montana 1948

"This is a novel of luminous sentences that carry us across a landscape of love and loss to a deeper understanding of our own lives, and of our desire to be forgiven and redeemed. It is a joy to read."
--Don J. Snyder, author of The Cliff Walk and Of Time & Memory

"Lin Enger's first novel brings the heft of Shakespearean drama to the north woods of Minnesota. In a cleanly-elegant narrative, Enger weaves a winter's tale of betrayal and ghosts, of one son's debt to his father and the wages of vengeance. For the reader, Undiscovered Country is the best kind of discovery-a riveting first novel that's a genuine page turner, and an author whose work bears watching."
--Claire Davis, author of Winter Range

"With flashes of prose as crisp and haunting as the frozen Minnesota setting."
--Publishers Weekly

"As in Jane Smiley’s King Lear–inspired A Thousand Acres (1991), Enger sets this retelling of Hamlet in a rural community whose very ordinariness underscores the universality of Shakespeare’s plot. Seventeen-year-old Jesse hears a shot during a hunting expedition, then discovers the devastated body of his dad, the town’s mayor. It’s officially a suicide, but Jesse suspects his father’s overshadowed younger brother and wonders if his mother might have been complicit.... Enger tightens the emotional screws in plenty of other ways, through stark, visceral descriptions of Jesse’s trauma (the father’s gunshot wound leaves a “ragged lip of bone and flesh, surrounding a bowl that held a profane, incomprehensible matter”), and through the icebound Minnesota backdrop, an apt reflection of the characters’ frigid interactions and the novel’s pervasive sense of agonized suspension."
—Jennifer Mattson, Booklist
Lin Enger is the MFA director at Minnesota State University, Moorhead. His short stories have been published in a number of journals, including Glimmer Train Stories, Great River Review, American Fiction, South Dakota Review, Wolf Head Quarterly, and Ascent. During the 1990s, he published five mystery novels, writing in collaboration with his brother, the novelist Leif Enger.

The Page 69 Test: Undiscovered Country.

--Marshal Zeringue