46 pages • 1 hour readMindy Mcginnis
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“The world is not tame. People forget that. The glossy brochures for state parks show nature at its most photogenic, like a senior picture with all the pores airbrushed away. They never feature a coyote muzzle-deep in the belly of a still-living deer, or a chipmunk punctured by an eagle’s talons, squirming as it perishes in midair.”
McGinnis confronts readers from the novel’s opening lines, emphasizing the theme that nature is wilder than most people care to acknowledge. Ashley’s narration uses imagery to capture examples of nature’s brutality and the relationship between all living things: for one to live, another must die.
“To be in that kind of condition the deer must not have gone violently, or its bones would have been tossed about by the teeth that took its life. Instead it lay down and died quietly of old age, either dappled by the sun or with soft snowflakes that landed on closing eyes. It died quiet, under the trees. I think that’s how I’d want to go too.”
When Ashley finds a deer skull, she appreciates its beauty and rarity and thinks about the tranquility of the deer’s death. Although she expresses a desire to die quietly like the deer, this desire is tested and reversed later in the novel, when Ashley faces the possibility of death. She decides that she will not curl up and die under a tree; instead, she runs wildly through the woods and successfully fights with every ounce of willpower she possesses to stay alive.
“But my other option is to yell for help, and to be honest I’d rather pass out four or five times on the way back to the campsite than admit that I need it. It’s deep inside me, a gene come down from my momma that drove her to do everything alone—even that last thing, which was leaving. That little bit of DNA is mixed in with my dad’s inability to say he was wrong about something, and explosive mix that blew their marriage to bits when I was just a kid.”
This passage highlights Ashley’s pride, as she refuses to yell for help, even when in a life-threatening situation. Ashley thinks about her parents and connects their traits to her own stubborn pride. Ashley’s reflections on her family and her past provide context for her transformation as she eventually does choose to call for help later in the novel.
By Mindy Mcginnis