Monday, June 24, 2024

Old King by Maxim Loskutoff

Old King by Maxim Loskutoff is a wonder of a Western wilderness narrative. Imagine the summer of 1976 and the years following when Duane, a man in his early thirties, flees his Utah home after his former wife’s new life with his son and the man she left Duane for becomes too much to bear. Duane lands in a remote Montana town where he scrapes by as a logger and finds a measure of contentment in building a cabin on an even more remote trail. He meets his neighbors including Jackie, a kind, grounded waitress, and his son joins him every summer. 

Duane’s hermit neighbor is extraordinarily strange, but so are others in the area including a neighbor who harbors a grizzly bear in a homemade cage behind his cabin. When the hermit, a man named Ted Kaczynski, yes, that Ted Kaczynski, acts violently and destructively and threatens the livelihood and existence of the neighborhood as well as the nation, Duane and his neighbors don’t realize the danger around them. 

This could have been a gratuitous riff on Kaczynski and a caricature of the people drawn to living isolated lives, but instead, it’s a grace-filled ode to belonging in an era when technology and big corporations began to threaten the existence of small towns and the people who lived in them. Kaczynski’s part in the narrative feels natural because Loskutoff envisions him as the person he was.

Loskutoff’s powerful descriptions make the land feel like a living character. As Duane drove down an empty trail, “The trees leaned over the road, examining Duane as he passed. Taken objectively, these trees were no different from the ones he wandered through in the woods behind Jackie’s house—ponderosa and lodgepole pines and the occasional Doug fir, forty to seventy feet tall, reddish trunks, clusters of green needles—but here he felt a communion, a collective history, as if this forest predated all the other inhabitants of the valley, and contained a deep, watchful intelligence.” 

Later, he spied a solitary Doug fir, “a massive tree, its gnarled crown was flung across the sky. It was the biggest he’d ever seen, easily a hundred feet tall and five feet wide at the base. The thick, regal trunk was rod-straight and the upper branches looked like the roots at Duane’s feet, reaching for purchase in the heavens. He set down his sandwich and approached the tree. The needles were a deep, shimmering blue and he felt humbled in the cool of its shade—a small furless animal at the foot of an old king.” Duane finds a crooked altar made of deer and rabbit bones tied with twine arranged around the base of the tree and he is seized with fear.  What could this old king of a tree be saying and could it be Kaczynski who’d built this menacing altar? 

Summing it Up: Read Old King, a novel spanning two decades, to experience a seemingly improbable, yet completely believable story that could have happened when one man’s quest to stop technology’s acceleration and slow the destruction of our natural world invaded a quiet place where time may have slowed but hadn’t stopped. This is a bold, caring novel that I could barely put down for a second as it completely captivated me. Loskutoff may be our new Cormac McCarthy. One of my favorite authors, Nickolas Butler, said it best in calling Loskutoff a writer “endowed with fearless audacity, stunning grace, and gutsy heart.” 

Footnote: Maxim Loskutoff will be one of the featured authors at the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book, September 27, 28, and 29, 2024 in Harbor Springs, Michigan. Presenters and registration information here:

Rating:  5 Stars 

Publication Date: June 4, 2024

Category: Fiction, Five Stars, Gourmet, Pigeon Pie (Historical Fiction), Super Nutrition, Book Club

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