Téa Obreht

Inland

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Inland Summary

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Inland (2019) is a literary Western by American author Téa Obreht. Set in the late 19th century, it follows two pioneers—“cameleer” Lurie Mattie and Arizona homesteader Nora Lark—as they commune with their personal ghosts in the harsh conditions of the newly settled deserts of New Mexico and the Arizona territory. The follow-up to Obreht’s Orange Prize-winning debut The Tiger’s Wife (2011), Inland was hailed as “mesmerizing” by critics (Publishers’ Weekly).

The novel alternates between two points of view: the first-person narrative of Lurie Mattie and the third-person story of Nora Lark.

Lurie’s sections are narrated to his beloved camel, Burke, as he tells his companion his life story. We (and Burke) learn that Lurie was orphaned at a young age by the death of his father Djurić, an immigrant from the Balkans.

As a child, Lurie supports himself by robbing graves and is eventually forced to flee his hometown. He starts running with the Mattie brothers, Hobb and Donovan, a pair of low-level outlaws. When Hobb dies of typhoid, Lurie finds himself haunted by Hobb’s ghost. In death, Hobb has been reduced to an all-consuming “want.”

Lurie, Donovan, and some of Donovan’s cousins form the criminal Mattie Gang. During a fight, Lurie kills a teenage boy from New York, and U.S. Federal Marshal John Berger issues a warrant for the whole gang. The Matties split up and flee their separate ways. Berger relentlessly tracks Lurie, forcing Lurie to flee from state to state, picking pockets to support himself (and driven, in part, by the “want” of the late Hobb).

Lurie hides out with the U.S. Army’s Camel Cavaliers, a (real historical) unit of camel-mounted soldiers headed for the Southwest. He and a Cavalier named Hadji Ali, or “Jolly,” together with some of the other soldiers, steal their camel mounts and create their own “Camel Corps,” an outlaw gang.

During his travels, Lurie encounters the ghost of Donovan Mattie, becoming the conduit for Donovan’s unrealized wants, as well as Hobb’s. Worrying that he will never have the chance to satisfy his own desires, Lurie decides to settle down with a woman he meets in New Mexico.

However, when Jolly reappears, Lurie cannot resist the call of adventure. The two of them secure new camels and set out on the road again. Lurie quickly forms a close bond with his camel, Burke.

Jolly and Lurie are separated again, and when Lurie tracks his friend down, he finds Jolly married and starting a family of his own.

A party of geologists recruits Lurie and Jolly to help them search for gold. The geologists prove themselves untrustworthy, and Jolly steals the gold they have found. Lurie and Jolly find themselves once again on the run. Jolly gives up the gold, hoping to return to his family, and Lurie continues alone into the desert with Burke.

Meanwhile, Nora Lark is trying to survive a drought in Amargo, Arizona Territory. Her husband Emmett has gone to look for water, and he hasn’t returned. Nora finds herself talking more and more to the ghost of her daughter, Evelyn, who died of sunstroke as a baby, but continues to age in her mother’s mind.

We learn Nora’s history: she grew up in Missouri and fell in love with Emmett Lark while he was lodging at her parents’ boarding house. Nora had long been desperate to leave her home, but she was discouraged by the harshness of Arizona.

She and Emmett started a family, while Emmett set up a local paper, the Sentinel. She never fully recovered from the death of her firstborn, Evelyn, but she went on to have three sons: Rob, Dolan, and Toby. Also, a part of the household is Emmett’s orphaned cousin Josie, who claims to be able to speak to the dead and irritates Nora no end.

Josie is especially irritating now, with Emmett missing, and Rob and Dolan in town trying to keep the Sentinel going. Toby claims to have seen a mysterious and possibly supernatural beast on the family’s land, and Josie supports his claim.

Nora tries to ignore them but managing the property without her older sons proves impossible. She goes to the offices of the Sentinel to bring the boys home, only to find the window broken. Clues at the office reveal that Rob and Dolan, believing their father to have been murdered, are investigating his death. Nora quizzes the townsfolk about her sons but receives no clear answers.

At home that evening, Nora is visited by her friend, the local Sheriff Harlan Bell. As they idle away the evening it becomes clear that they care deeply for one another but have never wanted to betray their respective spouses. Toby reports his sighting of the mysterious beast, and the three of them search the property together. In the process, they discover that Josie is missing.

They venture out to the furthest reaches of their land, where they find Josie lying injured. She reports that she has been attacked by the beast. As Harlan carries Josie into the nearest barn, the beast attacks again, hurting Harlan. Leaving Josie in the barn, so as not to scare Toby with her injuries, Nora helps Harlan back to the house.

They find local landowner Merrion Crace cooking steak in the kitchen. He has come to inform Nora that he suspects Rob and Dolan of murdering the two local men in retaliation for their father’s death. Nora refuses to believe that her husband is dead or her sons guilty. Crace and Harlan leave.

Left alone, Nora tends to Josie and communes with Evelyn’s ghost. Evelyn persuades her that what she has heard from Crace is true.

At dawn, Nora comes face-to-face with the creature. It is a sickly camel, with a long-dead rider on its back. Nora kills the camel, out of pity, and unbuckles the rider. Finding water in his canteen, Nora feels blessed.