Hold the Dark, by William Giraldi
The question that seems to be most on author Giraldi’s mind in Hold the Dark: Is humankind evolving or devolving? And whatever the answer one comes up with, what is the real nature of humanity, animal or something grander?
We’re first treated to Russell Core, an aging naturalist with a passion for wolves. Core is lured to the Alaskan village Keelut at the request of a woman, Medora Slone – something about her son and wolves. This is one of the first of several ambiguities the Giraldi presents, without leaving the reader with some sense of understanding. Medora’s husband, Vernon, returns from a desert war to learn that Core has discovered Medora’s son dead – probably at her hands.
This sets the stage for several Cormac McCarthy-esque acts of violence, the central one not involving Slone at all. Core is all but left dangling here while Slone stages his trail of violence on the way to some mysterious rectifying of Medora’s filicide.
A local police detective, Donald Marium, elbows his way into the story by killing Slone’s murderous pal Cheeon, and then urging Core (remember him?) to help him find Slone. Their intents are somewhat opposing: Core wants to rescue Medora from Vernon’s assumed wrath, and Marium wants to bring Slone to justice.
As convoluted and unsatisfying as Giraldi’s novel plotting is, his writing is compelling – even mesmerizing at times – and his depictions of these characters at the far reaches of civilization are vivid and realistic. In the end, though, Giraldi never quite settles on what aspect of humanity he’s drawn to depict: The need to live like and learn from the animal world in such forbidding territory? The self-affirming nature of violence? The urge to nurture, despite such a forbidding and violent environment?
Such questions all but demand that this short book be read and read again in search of solid footing for both the story and its author’s vision. My concern is that such further readings will leave the reader as barren as the territory Giraldi’s book inhabits.
My rating: 15 of 20 stars