Tag Archives | survival

The Road | Cormac McCarthy

The cover of McCarthy's The RoadThe Road is dystopian fiction like none other—lean and brutal.

The hook in dystopian fiction—and I’ve read more than my fair share—varies. Sometimes it’s a mystery novel in which the reader tries to figure out just how society arrived at its current misery. Other times it’s a constructive story of learning to transform the dystopia into something positive. None of this matters for McCarthy. In The Road there are only three ontological realities:

  1. Father
  2. Son
  3. Threats

The Road is a story of a father and son barely surviving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Everything extemporaneous to the survival of this relationship is stripped from the narrative. The father and son are unnamed. Even their dialogue reflects this minimalism, quotation marks absent from the text:

You walk too fast.
I’ll go slower.

You’re not talking again.
I’m talking.
You want to stop?
I always want to stop.

I know.
We’ll stop. Okay?
We just have to find a place.
Okay. (93)

How do you find a place where no place exists? How do you stop when to stop means to give up? These are the questions that propel McCormac’s desolate vision.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.

Survive | Nate Hardcastle, ed.

The cover of Hardcastle's SurviveOne of humanity’s deepest taboos is cannibalism. This is what makes the 1993 movie Alive so disturbingly compelling. Alive is the true story of a plane crash where forty-five Uruguayan rugby players are forced to survive off the bodies of the dead.

In Survive: Stories of Castaways and Cannibals, Nate Hardcastle has collected sixteen stories of people in survival situations, both fictional and non-fictional. Cannibalism occurs in twelve of the sixteen stories! What is a human being capable of doing when stretched to the edge of survival? Each account is gripping—some are heartbreaking.

Survive is packed full of top-notch writing, from Patrick O’Brian to Mark Twain to Jack London. The stories take you from icy antarctic sleeping bags to the deserts of the American West. Each account will make you question, “What would I do?”

—Nate Hardcastle, ed., Survive: Stories of Castaways and Cannibals (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2001).

The Skeleton Tree | Iain Lawrence

The cover of Lawrence's The Skeleton TreeAh, the old bait-and-switch.

I ordered this book expecting a good survival story that I could share with my son. The Skeleton Tree is about two boys stranded in the Alaskan wilderness. Visions of Lost in the Barrens danced in my head. Unfortunately, much of the book was taken up with the relationships and broken family history of the two boys. Survivalism took a back seat.

Lawrence is a Governor General’s Award winning author of young adult fiction, so I’m aware that this opinion reflects my own biases more than the quality of the writing. Lawrence’s prose is crisp and descriptive. Still, if this reflects the state of young adult adventure writing, I’ll stick with the classics.

—Iain Lawrence, The Skeleton Tree: Only the Wild Survive. (Toronto, ON: Tundra, 2016).

Within the Stillness | Keith Olsen

The cover of Within the Stillness by Keith Olsen

A wilderness memoir from the city—what a lucky find!

I stumbled over Olsen’s self-published memoir while randomly scanning the shelves in a Burlington, Ontario Value Village—quite a distance removed from its Northern Saskatchewan setting! On the strength of the cover picture and the promise of an authentic window into winter trapline life, I paid my money and took my chances.

I made the right decision.

In Within the Stillness, Keith Olsen recounts one winter he spent as a child with his parents on a Northern Saskatchewan trapline. Olsen’s prose is simple and direct. He tells his story with vivid details and little philosophical commentary.

I enjoyed every page of this book, devouring it in half a day. If, like me, you’re a wilderness camper awaiting your next fix, Within the Stillness will whet your appetite for your next adventure.

—Keith Olsen, Within the Stillness (Regina, SK: Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing, 2011).

Survive! | Peter DeLeo

Compelling and irritating are the two best words I can think of to describe Survive. Fortunately, compelling beat irritating and I finished the book. Let me explain.

Survive is DeLeo’s true story about surviving a plane crash followed by 12 weeks of travel in the High Sierras. DeLeo came close to death a number of nights as he fought hypothermia with sheer discipline. As you read his account, you can feel the breathtaking urgency of his situation. By the end of the book I both respected and admired DeLeo’s fighting spirit.

Now for irritating. At times this book is just downright condescending. He explains flight jargon and acronyms in a way that makes the reader feel foolish for not knowing the various trivia. I also can’t believe DeLeo was as logical and patient as the narrative suggests. I almost put the book away when I read for the third time how he religiously took inventory of his person and checked his rectum for blood.

In the end, I’m glad I read it. It’s a gripping—if slightly annoying—story of human gumption in the face of near-impossible odds.

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