Happy Pub Day to Sonja Yoerg! Her second novel, The Middle of Somewhere, releases today and I couldn’t be happier for her. Back in January, I reviewed Sonja’s first book, House Broken. My, she’s been busy.
ABOUT THE BOOK: A troubled young widow hikes from Yosemite Valley deep into the wilderness on the John Muir Trail to elude her shameful past in this captivating story from the author of HOUSE BROKEN.
With her thirtieth birthday looming, Liz Kroft is heading for the hills – literally. Her emotional baggage weighs her down more than her backpack, but a three-week trek promises the solitude she craves – at least until her boyfriend, Dante, decides to tag along. His broad moral streak makes the prospect of confessing her sins more difficult, but as much as she fears his judgment, she fears losing him more. Maybe.
They set off together alone under blue skies, but it’s not long before storms threaten and two strange brothers appear along the trail. Amid the jagged, towering peaks, Liz must decide whether to admit her mistakes and confront her fears, or face the trail, the brothers, and her future alone.
BOOK REVIEW: To open my book review, I want to highlight something author Sonja wrote in her acknowledgments:
“. . . Richard Gill walked with me the two hundred twenty miles of the John Muir Trail, and walked them again and again in draft after draft of this story. His photographs of the Sierra inspired my writing daily and kept me true to the Trail. Our shared love of this landscape is inscribed on every page. Thank you for taking that journey with me, and all the others as well, especially this longer one, where in my heart we are forever walking along a mountain trail under a blue sky filled with invisible stars.”
Knowing this personal connection, and knowing the author walked the actual trail, added so much to my reading because I found myself wondering what it was like for her to write the book about a trail she once walked.
Hiking these magnificent trails is strenuous work. I should know. I once hiked the Appalachian Trail. Not the length of the trail – the width.
Ha! Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.
Next week, in one of my “real life” (meaning, not online) book clubs, we’re discussing Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail which has been made into a motion picture starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson. The Bryson movie releases today, too. (Great timing, Sonja!) I’ve read at least five of Bill Bryson’s books, including his beefy 544-page A Short History of Nearly Everything – which covers, well, everything. But his trail book is one of my favorites. I read it in 1999 when it was first released and have enjoyed rereading it recently in preparation for the book club discussion in my home on September 10. I’m serving trail mix and other camping-themed treats and look forward to recommending The Middle of Somewhere by Sonja Yoerg to the women gathering in my home. On that note, and I’m sure this will come up at the book discussion, if you enjoyed Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, (also a motion picture) you’ll enjoy The Middle of Somewhere. The three books pair nicely on a bookshelf.
My recommendation as you read Sonja Yoerg’s The Middle of Somewhere – pay attention to everything. The author points to most names as they first appear; Woody, Rodell (Does Rodell rhyme with ‘road to Hell’?), and Paul and Linda (the “McCartneys” who later picnic with a group of young men). I also sensed (but I’m not sure) a deliberate use of the biblical names Elizabeth, Gabriel, and Michael; and I quickly understood the significance behind the name of the Root brothers (the root of all evil), who seemed to ‘control the entire wilderness’ (p. 266).
Which brings me to this point: I noticed Dante’s name right away and was pleasantly distracted by its possible connection to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno (the 14th-century epic poem). In Alighieri’s tale, Dante enters a forest much like these characters, and then passes through the circles of Hell. Early in Yoerg’s book, when Liz and Dante first enter the trail, they meet the Root brothers and have this exchange:
“Hello,” Dante said, stepping off the trail to stand next to Liz, “How’s it going?”
“Excellent. Just taking a breather.”
“I hear you. I feel we’ve climbed halfway to God.”
The big one gave an appreciative snort, and took a swig from the two-liter soda bottle that served as his water container. “Is that where you’re headed?”
A few pages later, before the close of chapter one, the Root brothers steer Liz and Dante down the wrong path, causing them to have to double-back, past the Root brothers, to pick up the other trail. The moment I saw that, I sat up (I was reading in bed) and told my husband (who was also reading in bed), “They’re walking in circles. I think they’re passing through Dante’s circles of Hell!”
Now, I could be TOTALLY WRONG about all of this Dante’s Inferno stuff.
But there’s other allegories in the story you may pick up on. Watch the weather (especially the storms) and the landscape and the Root brothers. These three elements follow a path that parallels the evolving relationship between Liz and Dante. Very cool.
Along with rich descriptions of nature (the reason I love trail books – I love to camp and sleep outdoors), comes a physical and emotional journey. This is a suspenseful novel wrought with tension, the search for redemption, and the release of secret sins.
Highly recommended. In fact, I’m going to recommend it to my book club next week as I pass the trail mix. And when folks talk about the Bill Bryson movie, I’ll find a way of working Sonja’s book into the conversation. Hey. I can’t help it. It’s what I do.
Happy Pub Day, Sonja!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sonja Yoerg grew up in Stowe, Vermont, where she financed her college education by waitressing at the Trapp Family Lodge. She earned her Ph.D. in Biological Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and published a nonfiction book about animal intelligence, Clever as a Fox (Bloomsbury USA, 2001). Her novels, House Broken (January 2015) and Middle of Somewhere (September 2015) are published by Penguin/NAL. Sonja lives with her husband in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.