Post-Christmas Alaskan Myth Review–Put on Your Snow Boots!

hold the dark

When he found the right road the city shrank behind him, the December-scape unseen beyond the green glow of the dashboard. He saw old and new snow plowed into half-rounded wharves along the roadside. The red and white pinpricks of light that passed overhead were either airplanes or space vessels. He felt the possibility of a close encounter with discoid airships, with gunmetal trolls from a far-off realm descending to ask him questions he’d not be able to answer. Half an hour of careful driving and the snow came quick in two coned lanes the headlamps carved from darkness. What would he tell Medora Slone about the wolf that had stolen her child? That hunger is no enigma? That the natural order did not warrant revenge?
–William Giraldi, Hold the Dark

William Giraldi’s Hold the Dark comes at you quick and low, making no apologies for its sudden deaths and heartless plot twists. At times I found myself skipping back, sure I had missed something from one moment to the next. But things happen quickly and without apology in the isolated Alaskan village of Keelut. Revenge is sought, darkness is held at bay. Although it Hold the Dark was published in September of 2014, the story it tells isn’t a new one. This is the stuff of legend, this is a handful of Greek and Roman myths lost together in a snowstorm.

We find Keelut in the midst of crisis, as wolves have preyed upon the village children. Men and women stand guard with rifles, and the elderly carry pistols and walk children to and from school. Police visited (“scratched sentences into notepads”), foreigners to the tight-knit village, never to return. Medora Sloan’s 6-year-old boy Bailey was the third child to be taken, and she wants revenge. As the others in the village refuse to hunt down the wolves, and her husband is off fighting wars in deserts, she writes to Russell Core for help.

Russell Core receives the letter a lost man. Once a nature writer seeking the truth of gray wolves, tired of all the romantic myth surrounding them, he documented their lives in Yellowstone. He was forced to turned on his subjects when one of the wolves grabbed a girl off a campsite. The rangers asked for his help in stalking and killing the guilty animal, and “[h]e could not say no.” Haunted by the experience, painting the wolf he killed over and over, he seems unable, again, to refuse a request for help when it comes.

But once Core arrives, to a village with no roads, where the snow is unlike any he’s ever experienced, nothing is as it seems. I love this description from John Wilwol’s review at The New York Times: “If dust jackets were more than paper and ink, this one would bear blood and frost.” What starts out as a story of a man hunting down a wolf turns into a story of human nature. Or a story of humans fighting against their nature. Although other reviews reveal a few of the first twists, I won’t give anything away. There isn’t magic here, but there is myth. Prepare to wade through Giraldi’s clipped prose like you would deep snow, lost adrift in Keelut with its characters, wolf and human alike.

Hold the Dark on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

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3 Comments

So I’m debating picking this book up this weekend, but am wondering about the violence of the story. I don’t mind violence that furthers the story line, but I can’t handle Saw or Hostel like violence. Any thoughts?

    Hi Shea,

    I would describe Saw and Hostel as torture porn, where the violence is inflicted upon a person as spectacle to witness their suffering. I can’t handle that either!

    There is explicit violence here, unapologetic and sometimes surprising, but it all does further the story line. The story line itself is incredibly smart and strange, the book is very literary and artistic, but also dark. The violence wasn’t gruesome enough to haunt me after reading it, and ultimately I would recommend giving it a try. Let me know what you think!

    Thanks,
    Kali

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[…] year I reviewed William Girardi’s Hold the Dark post-Christmas, a quiet tale of death and cold in the midst of Alaskan wild. You had all year to […]

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