The most recent effort by Jeffrey Lent escapes traditional confines in the service of an innovative style. Lost Nation challenges the format of Lent's first novel, In the Fall, where, unrestricted by conventional standards, the writing is more edgy; not stream-of-consciousness, but with an overpowering sense of immediacy.
A solitary and taciturn man, Blood tethers child-prostitute Sally to the back of his cart and pushes off from Maine toward the vast northern wilderness, his plan simple: a life carved from the unyielding soil of a remote settlement, there to establish a trading post. Blood is singular in purpose, beholden to no man, almost primal in his response to bleak and indifferent surroundings. Sally is an opportunity, nothing more, nothing less -- a commodity to be bartered as the need arises. Lent sketches Blood in coarse, primitive strokes: a fearsome man who lacks the nuances of civilization and cares not a wit for the poses of society. Sally is spare and quick, strong as a sapling, by necessity ever watchful.
The rigors of the journey north toward Canada impose a challenging landscape; their tentative relationship is defined less by personality than circumstance and the immediacy of need. Blood discloses himself to Sally over time, and his narrative underlines the story with subtle threads of tension. Lent sustains the impetus of this tale throughout, and he does so consistently. The world of Sally and Blood is laced with imminent danger, the threat of the unknown never farther away than the trees that ring the rough-hewn tavern/trading post where Blood finally settles.
For all their civilized pretensions, the pioneers, ideologues and misfits who people the wilderness before Blood and Sally arrive often appear to circle the trader and his young helper like a pack of hungry wolves waiting to attack. Blood remains neutral, serving his customers with dispassionate regard. Always an outcast, this damaged man, driven to inhabit his own loneliness, becomes a target for their discontent.
Aside from his personal demons, Blood is a sympathetic character, scarred by his past and sentenced to live out the agonizing years ahead in self-inflicted repentance. Meanwhile, her spirit newly awakened, Sally raises her head, less fearful of an always intolerant and brutal environment. She considers a life other than one constricted by survival and loss, thanks to Blood's uncommon strength and tenacity of will. As though reluctant, the story moves inexorably towards a violent conclusion, a drama of treachery, betrayal, passion, loss and redemption.
In Lost Nation, Jeffrey Lent hits his stride as a writer, with powerful, confident prose that rarely disappoints and is frequently touched with moments of unexpected tenderness. This novel is an insightful journey into the heart of darkness, limned with courage and a commitment to the enlightenment of shared grace.