In commemoration of the centennial of the National Park Service, Terry Tempest Williams (“When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice”) explores 12 diverse parks in “The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks.”
There are few contemporary nonfiction writers who can capture the essence of the American wilderness landscape as eloquently and intimately as Williams. Noted for writing about the American West, her distinctive prose style is capable of conveying a deep spiritual dimension within the physical setting. This is very much in evidence in her latest book, a broadly ambitious and deeply impassioned collection of essays on a select group of settings within the National Park System. Her writing expands beyond recreational parks to include battlefields, monuments and seashores. Williams reflects on personal ties to locations such as Grand Teton and stretches across the country to Acadia National Park, where she discovers familial roots going back several generations. Other locations, such as Big Bend National Park and Alcatraz Island, offer first-time encounters. Williams provides well-documented histories of many of these parks, yet a more consistent thread running throughout the book touches on the rapid changes incurred in recent decades, primarily related to the destructive effects of climate change or by the interference and conflicting interests of the federal government and the oil industry. The author heartbreakingly examines the Gulf Islands National Seashore and the mass devastation caused by the 2010 BP oil spill. Williams’ message for preserving and respecting these sights is heartfelt, but she has a tendency to occasionally overstate her message, and her calls to action sometimes veer toward rants. Her writing is most powerful and convincing when she allows her subtle and often sublime reflections to shine forth: “No matter how much we try to manage and manipulate, orchestrate, or regulate our national parks, they will remain as the edge-scapes they are existing on the boundaries between culture and wildness — improvisational spaces immune to the scripts of anyone.”
“The Hour of Land” is an important, well-informed and moving read for anyone interested in learning more about America’s national parks.
(Williams will speak and sign copies of her book starting at 7 p.m. July 20 at BookPeople. Free to attend; only books purchased at BookPeople are eligible for signing. Information: bookpeople.com.)
Political corruption and wholesale violence
Reluctantly back in the saddle as the sheriff of Tibbehah County, Mississippi, Quinn Colson goes up against a trio of bank robbers as cunning as they are clueless in Ace Atkins’ “The Fallen.”
Rick Wilcox, Jonas Cord (who’s borrowed his name from that of a notorious Harold Robbins hero) and their buddy Opie have robbery down to a science. They know exactly the best time to move on even modest institutions like the Jericho First National Bank, and they perform each job with military precision. While Cord waits in a disposable stolen truck, the other two enter each target armed with a stopwatch, a pair of assault rifles, two Donald Trump masks and an unforgettable tagline: “Anyone moves and I’ll grab ’em by the (expletive).” No one generally moves, and the former Marines and their junior partner drive off, ditch their ride and set it afire, and then take off to plot their next caper. Now that they’ve fouled his nest, Quinn would love to catch them, but he and his deputies have their hands full with the disappearance of teenagers Tamika Odum and Ana Maria Mata, county supervisor Skinner’s endless complaints against Vienna’s Place, the strip club Fannie Hathcock runs just outside the city limits, and the trashing of Maggie Powers’ house by somebody, presumably her estranged husband, who didn’t even bother to steal anything. This last crime would barely register on Quinn’s radar if Maggie weren’t a well-nigh forgotten friend he spent summers playing with as a child, an old acquaintance with whom his friendship might well blossom into something else. In between shared meals of catfish and whiskey, though, Quinn keeps being drawn back to Vienna’s Place — and so, it turns out, do the robbers he’s pursuing.
Beneath the down-home Southern trappings, fans will find Atkins’ customary mixture of political corruption, true-blue policing, intimate betrayals and wholesale violence. The satisfyingly inconclusive ending of this sequel to the equally dark “The Innocents” puts a whole new spin on catharsis.
(Atkins will speak and sign copies of his book starting at 7 p.m. July 21 at BookPeople. Free to attend; only books purchased at BookPeople are eligible for signing. Information: bookpeople.com.)