The year is 1823, and the trappers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company live a brutal frontier life. Trapping beaver, they contend daily with the threat of Indian tribes turned warlike over the white men’s encroachment on their land, and other prairie foes—like the unforgiving landscape and its creatures. Hugh Glass is among the Company’s finest men, an experienced frontiersman and an expert tracker. But when a scouting mission puts him face-to-face with a grizzly bear, he is viciously mauled and not expected to survive.
The Company’s captain dispatches two of his men to stay behind and tend to Glass before he dies, and to give him the respect of a proper burial. When the two men abandon him instead, taking his only means of protecting himself—including his precious gun and hatchet— with them, Glass is driven to survive by one desire: revenge.
With shocking grit and determination, Glass sets out crawling inch by inch across more than three thousand miles of uncharted American frontier, negotiating predators both human and not, the threat of starvation, and the agony of his horrific wounds. In Michael Punke’s hauntingly spare and gripping prose, The Revenant is a remarkable tale of obsession, the human will stretched to its limits, and the lengths that one man will go to for retribution.
Historical fiction story of survival – I’m there.
The Revenant was a quick read with a pretty simple story line: one man’s story of survival in the relentless wilderness, and the subsequent desire for revenge that fuels him to keep going. Simple is not to say unimaginative – simple is not always a bad thing. It works for this story. Punke’s style is interesting and paradoxical in that he excels in both technical detail and poetic, thoughtful language. Historical fiction writers can sometimes fall into the rabbit hole of heavy, sometimes unnecessary technical description about an object or mechanism from the past. While Punke sometimes teeters on the brink, his aim is in service of the story. The description and workings of Hugh’s beautiful and coveted Angstadt rifle, for example, is necessary because it is a symbol of Hugh’s pride that was seemingly taken from him by Fitzgerald.
Hugh’s laboriously journey out of the wilderness post-attack, post-abandonment is raw and unrelenting – magnified in intensity by Punke’s succinct descriptions.
One facet of Punke’s style that I was not fond of, however, was his “head-jumping”. Sometimes this technique can be used successfully, but there were a few times throughout reading The Revenant that I had to look back to make sure whose POV I was reading.
I found the end to be quite anti-climactic, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Sometimes we do have all this burning anger and desire for revenge and it quickly gets stamped out by the rules and tides of the real world. Large events in life don’t always happen so dramatically or end with a bang; but then again, this is fiction…which sometimes calls for that. But perhaps we had enough dramatics during Hugh’s journey to be content with the end? Or perhaps this fizzling end is merely illustrative in itself of how revenge feels after it’s “achieved” – empty and unsatisfactory.