Half Wild

Review: Marla Cantrell
By Robin MacArthur | Ecco and imprint of Harper Collins | 207 pages | $24.99

I was once told that you should treat every word in a short story as if it was on trial for its life. In short stories, there’s no room for long descriptions or time to meander inside the mind of a character. You put your characters to work from the first sentence, and you follow them on their epic journeys, which is why I love short stories so much.


So, when I found Robin MacArthur’s debut book, Half Wild, I felt a wave of anticipation. The book is a collection of eleven intertwined short stories, all set in rural Vermont, all told by those who live there, who have an unbreakable bond with the place they call home.


This book, however, doesn’t show a picture-perfect postcard of Vermont. Winters are bitter. Two of the characters live in a house that’s nothing more than a collection of tarpaper rooms, built one after the other like a maze. Others live in trailers or ancient farmhouses in need of repair. But there is also beauty, views of the mountains, places where you can see all the way to New Hampshire, fields that hold a kind of glory.


In “Maggie in the Trees,” Pete falls in love with his best friend’s wife, and the fact wrenches his heart. When Maggie goes missing, Pete and Maggie’s husband search for her, looking in the deep woods near her home, staying up nights searching for any sign of life.


In “The Long Road Turns to Joy,” Apple is a single mom who’s only son is fighting the war in Afghanistan. While she prays for him to come home, she reflects on her life before Vermont, when she lived unremarkably in Ohio. She thinks about the day she gave her son a book of poetry when he graduated from high school, hoping his life would be easier than hers. One night, as her neighbors throw a Christmas party, she watches as they dance inside their big, bright house. And when her doorbell rings later, she fears someone’s come with bad news about her boy. But the visit brings her hope, which she sees as a Christmas miracle.


My favorite story was “Love Bird” which chronicles the last days of a man named Tub, who charmed women and horses, and his wife, Vi. As they travel the roads they know so well, they look back on their life together, the unending love they have, and the place they call home. At the local cemetery, they read the names on the stones, Constance, Ezekial, Zipporah, Desire. The dates go all the way back to 1790, and many are ancestors of Tub’s.


When Vi talks about meeting Tub for the first time, she says, “He was charmed by me, too. Sixteen in a truck, pretty as any of these young back-to-the-land women are, but I knew how to rope a horse and build a shed and strip the bark off a tree. Now I’ve been weathered by sun and wind, and I know I’m missing one front tooth, but it’s okay. Tub loves me just the same. That I know.”


That love, constant, unending, is the star of this brilliant book. Half Wild will make you consider the value of home, the people you let into your life, and the importance of living where you do.


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