The main action is simple: Wilder is hiking through the Tennessee woods at night with his lover, Thistle, in order to meet her mother. The language is dense and lyrical, dripping with portent. In order to get the most of this one, you have to be willing to let yourself sink into that language without worrying too much about the plot. The narrative follows a meandering path though the present and the past, dipping into Wilder’s attempts to woo Thistle, into their relationship, and occasionally into his life before her, before returning to the present day. The point of this story is not the plot (though it’s a fine, well-developed plot). The point of this story is the characters, mood, and feeling. It is the dawning realization that all is not as it seems to the narrator, and the inevitable resolution.
While I admire the luscious language and the the languid journey, I personally found that this story moved too slowly for me, towards a resolution that I guessed at shortly after the opening lines. An inevitable ending isn’t necessarily a bad thing – sometimes it can allow the reader to focus on the journey over the destination – but it didn’t entirely work for me in this case. I kept thinking about how the details and diversions might come together in the end, when they were the point in and of themselves. Each memory, each observation, feeds the mood, giving it depth and weight. That is the point: to be fully immersed in the world, so that ending, once it arrives, has a gravity to it.
I want to emphasize that I didn’t dislike this story – I think it’s expertly written and executed – I just wasn’t able to sink into as fully as I wanted to. If you love to linger over dense prose, lyrical descriptions, and a beautifully meandering narrative, then this may well be the story for you.