The Wilding by Benjamin Percy

In this post, I’ll discuss the book I most recently finished, The Wilding by Benjamin Percy. I’ll examine his style and themes then share my overall opinion of this writer and his work without spoiling it for the rest of you.

The Wilding by Benjamin Percy

What by whom? It’s a book called The Wilding by an author named Benjamin Percy. I’d first heard about, and then subsequently met, Mr. Percy at AWP in Chicago last year. He was doing a talk on writing violence (which was an excellent panel, by the way), and since then I’ve been intrigued to get into his work. Not to go all “hipster” on you, but if you haven’t heard about The Wilding or Mr. Percy, you’re not really in the literary know … it’s okay. I forgive you.

My moments with Mr. Percy have been brief. I’ve been able to shake his hand, compliment him on his talk, and then ask some writing questions rather awkwardly. He was very generous and patient, and I appreciated how approachable he was. One of the first things you notice about Mr. Percy is his deep baratone voice, so when you get this book for yourself, it’s key to imagine the narrator’s voice sounding like this.

Enough about this guy. What about his writing? Well, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I bought his book. I enjoyed Mr. Percy’s talk on violence, but then again, I have not been taken by too many modern writers. But as I read this novel, I was impressed. Many people talk about his sense of place (he writes about woods in the Northwest), and it’s true, his sense of place is vivid. It’s easy to imagine the landscapes he draws, and it’s also apparent how dear that area of the country is to him.

Still, it wasn’t his description of landscapes that caught me. It was his rich characters and deep themes. The characters in The Wilding are extremely human and troubled, and yet, animalistic at the same time. Percy plays with this binary, and it becomes the central theme. He takes that familiar theme of civilization encroaching upon the wildness of the world, but he adds the twist of civilization and animal urges butting up against each other inside the minds of his characters. Suddenly, wants aren’t so logical and people are overcome with passion, hunger, and violence.

There are no throw-away characters in this book. They feel as real as the gas station clerk down the street. And each and every one of them has distinct and self-serving motivations. Still, despite the animalistic qualities, the selfish and human wants, the violence, the sexuality, all of the characters, including the most villainous (though there are no easy villains in this book), are extremely identifiable. Oddly, I found myself rooting for most everyone by the end, which is a strange feeling indeed.

A few plots crisscross throughout the novel, mirroring each other in ways, echoing some central questions, like What does it mean to feel loved (by father or spouse)? or When is it permissible to do violence? or perhaps the more important question, What does it mean to be a man? The action and the tension continually ratchet up throughout the book organically, as the characters feel that tension inside of them grow, until the reader is left with a satisfying and complete ending.

Way to be vague on the ending. Well, I didn’t want to ruin it for you. It’s a great book. I’d recommend it, especially for those readers who miss the man’s man authors like Orwell or Steinbeck. I’d say Percy fits well with that tradition of male writers. The Wilding is both great fun and yet, still willing to challenge the reader on some deep levels, questioning core issues. Read this book.

About Adam Nannini

The greatest writer of his generation ... which isn't saying much.
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