One hopes that his first novel-length fiction is the beginning of a long career for Percy, a riveting tale of encroaching corporate interests in Bend, Oregonís Echo Canyon and a struggle between fathers and sons as old as civilization. Set primarily in a remote canyon in Oregon, where Indian pictographs and a hunterís paradise are to be destroyed in favor of a golf course, high-end condos and a rustic lodge, Justin Caves, his father, Paul, and his son, Graham, make one last foray into the wilderness. The irascible Paul, who flaunts his maleness despite his declining years and recent heart attack, makes no secret that Justin, a teacher, has not lived up to expectations. Specifically requesting Graham be included in the party, Paul insists he ďintends to make a man out of my grandson.Ē
Percyís timing and prose is engaging, the generational battle lines clear-cut as Justin chronically resists his fatherís bullying tactics yet canít seem to break free of the old manís emotional grip. Graham, in turn, is unpredictable, sparked with curiosity and awe as he fires his first rifle and drinks a beer - both of which forbidden acts bring Justinís cautionary ďdonít tell your mother.Ē As Paul spins ghost stories of bloodthirsty Indians and marauding grizzlies around a nighttime campfire, it is increasingly clear that real threat is at hand, and none of these characters will leave Echo Canyon unscathed. Itís only a matter of degree.
Back in Bend, Justinís wife, Karen, having recently lost a baby, ruminates on the state of her marriage and flirts with an opportunity for indiscretion. A different - but very real - threat shadows the unsuspecting Karen, watching as she luxuriates in a few days without family responsibilities. But the primary tension remains with the three generations of males marking their territory one last time, unexpectedly faced with terrible choices that will shape their futures. Thereís a tactile sense of place, of the destruction of precious resources for profit (jobs) and the inevitability of corporate desecration of wilderness.
There is also a subtle reminder in Percyís novel that nature will always trump man, an intractable and raw force that simply endures his footprint. Most likeable, perhaps because of his ambivalence toward the father he both loves and hates, Justin personifies the dilemma of the modern man: dominated by logic and thoughtfulness, yet cognizant of atavistic memory and the instinct to survive. Like the Wild West, Paul is an archeological curiosity, an anachronism that wallows in intimidation and brooks no resistance to his will. Paul, too, will feel the consequences of age and limitations, but with far less grace or integrity. A brilliant, haunting novel.