ďNothing would remain as it was.
These are the reflections of Uncas Metcalfe on dealing with everyday life. For Uncas and others who were born before the 1960s, society has changed its values, beliefs, grammar, and what it accepts as being socially normal. Sometimes our natural individual pace is not the same as the cultural pace.
ďNothing was clear and simple anymore.Ē
For this 65-year-old married man, life doesnít need to change
- or, better still, he doesnít need to change. Heís set in his ways, and as long as societal changes do not affect him directly, heís content with his life. His values and beliefs are set and need no modification. His life as an aging botany professor living in a small community where everyone knows each other is almost perfect for him.
Then Uncasís mundane lifestyle changes due to three events. First, his old Raleigh bicycle is stolen. What is unusual about this is that the seat is extremely high since it is adjusted to fit only Uncasís height of six foot five inches. Then his wife is injured while at a library book sale, requiring her to stay in bed for six weeks. This causes Uncas to hire two young women to help with things around the house. Perhaps the most troubling is that his daughter and her family are moving back home. Her husband is unemployed, and they have three small children with the fourth on the way. Temporarily, they are to live in Uncasís house until their house is ready for them.
Uncas discovers certain beliefs about himself as the story progresses throughout the book. Unfortunately, his beliefs are not always up to date with societyís acceptance of life. He also discovers
that his world consists of a small college town, and his adjustment to the world around him is frequently out-of-date.
His wife is a retired preschool teacher who seems to know everyone in the town. She is almost a complete opposite of Uncas, so much so that he has always wondered why his gregarious, loveable, and charismatic wife was ever interested in him. He is amazed to discover that
while she also realizes their great differences, she believes the differences bring laughter into their lives.
Uncas also has difficulty with his daughter, Fauna (remember, he is a botany professor), moving back to town. He struggles with her values of
opting not to have a college education, having and raising children, the unemployment of her husband, and
the way her relationship with him constantly leaves him disappointed and reevaluating his daily life.
Also, his memory is not what it used to be. Forgetting people from his childrenís past, the forgetfulness of age, and changes in his life constantly place him in awkward and shameful situations.
How Betsey Osborne writes from the viewpoint of this 65-year-old man is masterful. The voice of this character begins as confident and becomes more questioning of those around him as he evolves reluctantly through his experiences. As you read about Uncas, you actually feel as if you are reading his thoughts and thinking with him;
the reader evolves at the same pace as Uncas.
The writing style is comfortable and caring with realistic and lovable characters. While writing similarly to John Grogan in Marley and Me, Betsey Osborne has developed a much more detailed and realistic family in this small town. The warmth of the acquaintances, as well as the shallowness or depth of the characters makes this a delightful and memorable reading experience.
Warmth, best describes this graceful, exquisite, and well-written novel. There is a feeling of knowing and caring for Uncas as he grows and considers all the changes happening around him.
Uncas is the neighbor you would want to live next door to you. He minds his own business but
occasionally seems left behind in time. Heís usually predictable; as he attempts to deal with the new realities of societies, you canít help but smile with the familiarity of your own shortcomings. Itís also unnerving to find that there is a little bit of Uncas in each of us.
Surprisingly, this novel is fast-paced with the main character reluctantly having to speed up his pace. Uncasís amazement of life has the reader hesitant to put the book down. Even the ending leaves
one in astonishment and with the desire for more of Uncas.
The Natural History of Uncas Metcalfe is delightful, enthralling, and enriching. Betsey Osborne develops the character of Uncas as an unchanging, withdrawn oaf into a person by superbly injecting humor into the challenges of his life.
This is Betsey Osborneís first novel, although she has worked with Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Grand Street. She received her undergraduate degree at Harvard and her masterís degree from Columbia.