Deep River by Karl Marlantes (2019. Atlantic. ISBN 978-0-8021-2538-5)

I loved Marlantes’s debut novel, Matterhorn. Big, sprawling, filled with conflict and angst, it’s one of the best fiction books written about Vietnam. So when a friend sent me a FB message about Marlantes’s new novel, one based upon the author’s Finnish heritage, one that evoked an era and themes similar to those contained in my own Suomalaiset: People of the Marsh, well, I had to swallow my pride, put aside envy, and dig in.

Marlantes is a fine writer and chronicles the story of Finnish immigration to the forests of the Pacific Northwest with a deft hand. His characters are believable, folks we grow to like, admire, and cheer on, which is not an easy thing to accomplish when weaving multiple storylines and character histories into a seven hundred page tome. If a two book sample size is any indication, Marlantes writes long, complex, detailed tales chock-full of facts and history and depictions of landscape that ring true. But in that length and attention to the past, I found myself, when mired in detail after detail concerning logging in the early 20th century, drifting away from the guts and heart of the drama behind the story. That’s why the title evokes Moby Dick: Melville’s novel has always been championed as one fo the great novels of American writing. I don’t dispute that label given I am just a self-taught real estate novelist (sorry Billy Joel!) and not a PhD in Literature. But Deep River shares with Moby Dick this (at least to my eye) flaw: the consistent and constant detailing of the inner workings of logging get in the way of story just as the middle third of Melville’s classic becomes bogged down in the minutiae of whaling.

That said, I liked the story, finishing it on a cruise from Barcelona to Venice. I don’t agree that it is, as the back jacket proclaims, “a page-turner”. I do agree that it “draws you into its world” and makes you care about each fictional person you encounter along the winding and complex road Marlantes leads readers on in this epic novel.

In the end, it’s a book that should be read by Finns and non-Finns like interested in the immigrant experience, labor strife, and what life was once like for our forefathers and foremothers.

Four stars out of Five. A little less fact and a little more heart, and it would be a classic.



Leave a Reply

Follow Us

Events Calendar
January  2021
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31