Inland: A Novel

Written by Téa Obreht
Review by Kristen McDermott

This stunning literary novel by the award-winning author of The Tiger’s Wife is set in Arizona, 1893, and slowly brings two fascinating characters into each other’s orbit. Nora is the matriarch of a struggling homestead; at the start of the narrative she impatiently awaits the return of her newspaperman husband, overdue from a trip to buy water for their drought-oppressed land, and her two fractious adult sons, who have left home the night before, after a terrible quarrel. She senses that something is very wrong but is unwilling to confirm it; her dreamy youngest son and spirit-communing housemaid insist meanwhile that a mysterious Beast is stalking the house. Nora, very close to dying of thirst, hears the ghostly voice of her only daughter, Evelyn, dead in infancy, adding to her dread and confusion.

While Nora worries in present tense about her absent family, we also experience the wanderings of Lurie Mattie through his past-tense monologue to a companion, Burke, who we learn early on is a stolen mount from the famous Camel Corps, imported just before the Civil War to help tame the desert West. Lurie’s tale is too complex to summarize; the son of a Turkish immigrant, he falls in with the Corps while evading capture for an accidental murder, and his wanderings take him all over the Western Territories over the course of nearly 40 years as he makes his way to a collision with Nora (with whom he shares the ability to perceive the presence of the dead) and her troubled clan.

There is little mystery about how and when this will happen, but the beauty of this novel is its lyrical descriptions of the harsh Arizona landscape and the sharp, sarcastic voice of Nora, a flawed but unforgettable character who vividly evokes a life lived suspended between the unrelenting daily demands of survival and the softer memories of lost love.