Into the Jungle
Erica Ferencik
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Buy *Into the Jungle* by Erica Ferencik online

Into the Jungle
Erica Ferencik
Gallery/Scout Press
336 pages
May 2019
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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In March 2010, Ferencik's heroine Lily begins to tell her own story. An international drifter and petty thief, Lily finally finds herself living in Cochabamba, believing that everything in it is magical and connected and that nothing in her life is ever mere happenstance. Lily's opening statements come with a warning: her journey to Bolivia is just one of a series of bad decisions she's about to make.

This is a landscape where the personification of the jungle and the idea of human restraint corresponds to its environment. Half-starved and a high-strung wild child who has lived out of a backpack since she 13, Lily is obsessed with Spanish-speaking countries. In Cochabamba, Britta and Molly help Lily navigate the narrow streets buzzing with lawless vitality and frenetic energy. At nights, they work at the Hostel Versailles ("a hilariously named fleabag"), booking rooms and cleaning floors. Then Lily meets Omar, awakening a flame of self-consciousness. As she basks in his gymnastics build, Molly lets the sneers and comments of Britta and Molly fade into the background. How can Lily shove this guy in the trash heap of Bolivian men? Lily wants to savor Omar's delicious urgency.

Lily looks into the Amazonian forest just beyond the lights of the bar, a tangled, pulsating knot of green and black. She senses the dark heart of something, the desire to know what huddles nearby. Omar knows how to live with his motorcycles. He's proud of jungle hunting and fighting jaguars: "a grown man...[who] was beautiful... I shivered with pleasure, with the thrill of being seen, observed, appreciated." It takes only minutes to leave the stink and noise of the city behind. "I want to tell you to tell me a secret. About you, or the jungle," Lily says. Omar will impart to his new muse the secret sacred knowledge of the Tatinga tribe.

Ferencik's story throbs with the dark, fecund life of its setting in the Amazon jungle and Omar's hometown of Ayachero. There Lily meets Anna, Franz, Claudia, and Omar's mother Dona Antonia. She's naturally drawn to the Frannies, two Christian evangelists, as the green wall of the jungle hisses and steams around her. This is where the jaguar slaughtered a child and where snakes are so poisonous you can die in minutes, where the night creatures are made to "see in the dark." In these early days, Lily feels a part and "not a part of anything."

Ferencik's story is about phantasms and is itself haunting and eerie. So much of the story takes place on the river--apt, for the story itself roils along but then shimmers under theInto the Jungle palpable throbbing energy of Amazon's diamond sun--which literally flows between Lily and the forest in a buzzing, unbroken loop. "Why are you here? This is not your forest," says Dona Antonia to Lily as Omar once more disappears into the forest on his jaguar hunt. Though it has only been a couple of weeks it feels like an eternity. The jungle seeps into Lily, changing her forever.

In her new world of hauling, washing and harvesting, life for Lily is muddy and dark, tinted grey. Lily turns to Translator Paco and the longhouse of the Anaconda Bar. Here she understands bad things will always happen in Omar's world, aware of the realities of duplicity and greed in Omar's corrupt but beautiful wild land. Standing in her sack dress, filthy and frightened with the sun beating her senseless, Lily wonders how she got here, into this jungle that droops over the village "like a thousand giants." In the final chapters, Lily is caught in a game of survival, desperately forced to cope in a reality without Omar. Ensconced in a cage of her own agony, Lily realizes she doesn't have a corner on suffering or despair.

The real star of Ferencik's tale is the enchanted Amazonian underworld and the murky depths of the river that rises and floods the forest during the rainy season. Channeling Joseph Conrad's famous Heart of Darkness, Ferencik delivers her own contribution to this strange, foreign and foreboding world.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2019

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