Wild by Kristin Hannah

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Wild is a remarkable novel. It is a representation of the human spirit in both its praiseworthy and ugly forms. It is, on the surface, the story of a woman, her reputation slaughtered by the ugliness of less qualified colleagues and clamorous public opinion, who undertakes a project and, in the face of rabid press attacks, wins success and finds love. It is the story of a little girl who appears suddenly to the people of a small town, who accept her into their midst and, with the leadership of the disgraced woman mentioned above, regains her poise and a positive life outlook.

From a nuts-and-bolts point of view, this tale is not out of the ordinary. The plot line is simple. The setting is accurately described and is readily imagined. The characters are well drawn – some are conflicted, some hold fears and superstitions, and some are shortsighted in reading their fellows, or just plain dim. A difference from the traditional novel of this type is that the individual villains are quite different. A local boy is an outright saboteur of all that is good (a psychopath perhaps) and the other is a hard businessman with a harsh exterior but a centre that allows personal sacrifice. The good guys are traditional folk – she beautiful and damaged, he the tough-shelled nut with a ganache centre who is healed by the heroine and the child, and the female sheriff who handles difficult situations with perseverance, courage and honour. The book contains many examples of lighthearted humour, some in your face, none subtle and devious. The atmosphere, except among the leading players (or perhaps even there too in some moments), is light-hearted and laid back.

This is an entertaining story and many readers will identify with the characters and sit up late at night milking every last drop. Others will want to marvel and condemn the madness of a mob stirred up by a ruthless media. That is one of the messages of the book. A highly qualified psychiatrist is attacked for failing to breach practitioner-client confidentiality when her client runs amok and kills people. Attacked in the courts but cleared of any wrong doing, her career is destroyed by a relentless media campaign. An inflated view of their own importance gives the newspaper, television and radio outlets the right to demand answers to questions they have no right to ask. Kristin Hannah does not attack directly this aspect of modern society but her vivid descriptions of events make her disapproval clear. Her book is a graphic depiction of mob hysteria but also a triumph of individual fortitude. The court system in the United States is another area to receive un-subtle criticism. The blind administration of justice as written into legislation, damaging as everyone agrees it is, has to be allowed to ride rough-shod over what is best for the helpless victim.

The other side of the coin is not as ugly. On this side we find the goodness of humanity. A dedicated scientist attempts the task of educating a wild girl in the wonders of language as a communications medium, and accepts that the child’s brutal physical attacks are her way of expressing frustration that she must lose one set of cultural patterns in order to accept the new. A surgeon of no mean skill carries a burden of guilt, only to find that the redemptive power of love is all that is needed to relieve his burden. An untried sheriff of a most unusual district limits the influence of the rule book in the pursuit of a better cause, and applies a creative solution to misdirect the attention of an insatiable media pack. And then there is the little wild girl herself who never fails to charm. Watching her develop as the pages unfold is a highlight of the book for me.

The author’s training as a lawyer is reflected in the writing style. Each stage in the child’s growth is presented in logical child development steps. This logicality works against the writer on at least one occasion. I refer to pages 112 and 113 where what could well be an excerpt from a textbook is presented in list form. I see no reason to use listing in what is, after all, a novel. I recognize that this is not a hanging offence. The author’s writing is excellent in virtually every other respect.

I enjoyed this book. Recommended.

Wild

(2020)

By Kristin Hannah

Pan Macmillan

ISBN: 978-1-5290-4512-3

$32.99; 400 pp

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