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"Lost Nation" by Jeffrey Lent

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One begins to see a pattern in Jeffrey Lent. Prior to "Lost Nation," he brought out a masterpiece, "In the Fall." Each of these is an epic multi-generational drama ("Lost Nation" deals with subsequent generations only in a postlude), each concerns itself with violent men in warlike, bloody activity, and each portrays men who have eroded themselves, ruined themselves with ancient guilt.

"Lost Nation" refers not only to a territory in the far north of New Hampshire which is orphaned between the U.S. and Canada in the early 19th century, but more importantly to the life which our protaganist, named Blood, has lost, or rather, has avoided living. We find Blood, this fugitive from his own life, and the young and clever whore Sally, newly arriving in the Indian Streams area of New Hampshire. He is running from a version of himself with which he cannot live. It's tragic, in the strictest classical definition, what the delusional Blood believes of himself. His undying effort to leave his past behind is the energy behind the narrative. But in the thematic words of the untutored Sally, "It's the big lies that aren't worth it."

Lent informs his language deeply with the primitive country, the backwardness, the courage, and the brutality of the early backwoods trappers and settlers. The laconic speech of his characters, the unadorned descriptions of nature, livestock, and wild animals, the straightforward portayal of murder, betrayal, and butchery - this plain approach to the telling paradoxically elevates the narrative by just letting it do its monumental job. And it is a monumental job. I don't think Lent ever will want to write of small or subtle issues, or if he does, I'm sure his language will be adapted to the job. I think the world of this writer.

Something I found myself considering: what are the demands of blood? It requires vengeance where needed, loyalty of family always, an outlet when riled, and always a full reckoning. Blood the character insists on excoriating himself on the basis of his family history. When he discovers that his sons have found him, it's too late. He's too much at odds with the world - he has no route to reconciliation, even if he does imagine how it might be. It looks to me like Mr. Lent wanted to consider how blind and wasteful such an emotional approach to life can be. And since it's Jeffrey Lent, we get gorgeous language and unforgettable characters, acting on an epic stage.

Get ready for watershed events in lives that are a struggle. Men and women strive against nature, hostile natives, each other, but most notably themselves. Lent sees clearly into the nature of things, here as elsewhere. This is his great strength - that and the skill to set it down and take the lucky reader on very, very memorable journeys. Don't waste time; if you haven't taken this one up, don't delay!
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