‘In the Distance’ by Hernan Diaz – The Western Legend of a Man Called Hawk

 

‘In the Distance’ by Hernan Diaz    (2017) – 356 pages

 

After reading and much admiring ‘Trust’, I absolutely had to go back and read the first novel of Hernan Diaz, ‘In the Distance’.

Like ‘Trust’ which deals with the history of Wall Street, ‘In the Distance’ deals with an aspect of United States history in a personal way. ‘In the Distance’ is the personal history of one Swedish man, Hakan Soderstrom (called Hawk), during the great westward expansion of the United States during the 1850s, fueled by the gold rush in California.

But Hawk is going the opposite way; he’s going east. While he and his brother Linus were migrating from Sweden, the young man Hawk accidentally got on the wrong ship, one headed around Cape Horn and then going all the way up to California, while Linus presumably got on the right ship headed for New York City. Hawk sets out from the gold rush site near San Francisco, California to go to New York City to hook up with his brother in New York City. Sometimes he walks, sometimes he’s fortunate enough to have a horse or burro. Everyone else on the trail is headed in the opposite direction toward the west.

On his long, long lonely trek, Hawk meets up with various individuals and groups of people. Ultimately Hawk becomes a legend and is pursued by law enforcement throughout the West.

Hawk’s encounters with others along the way are sporadic. Thus ‘In the Distance’ necessarily is not as tightly plotted as ‘Trust’. For me at least, the long stretches when Hawk is alone in the desert or prairies make for less lively reading than the times when he encounters people along the way. These alone stretches were somewhat slow going for me. The prose is stately and perceptive, but I get impatient for conversation or more things to happen.

But Hawk’s encounters with others tend to be quite engaging. His encounter with the naturalist Lorimer on the Utah salt flats I found to be particularly interesting. Lorimer dissects the various small animals he finds as he travels with his crew by covered wagon. He does not catalog the differences between the various species, but instead the similarities.

Everything we do, from breathing to walking, from thinking to defecating, is governed by the cord traversing our upper body.”

All animal life is controlled and determined by that nexus of the spinal cord and the brain. Thus,

All animal life was, in essence, the same.”

Is Lorimer brilliant or a crackpot? Hawk and I were both won over to Lorimer’s way of thinking.

Knowing nature, Lorimer would often say, means learning how to be. And to achieve this, we must listen to the constant sermon of things. Our highest task is to make out the words to better partake of the ecstasy of existence.”

For me, ‘In the Distance’ is not as tightly plotted and brilliant as ‘Trust’ but is still an insightful and thought-provoking read.

 

Grade:   B+

 

 

2 responses to this post.

  1. I skimmed your review as I am taking this one on holiday next week. I figured it might be hard for it to live up to Trust!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Cathy,
      With the authors I really, really like, Anne Tyler, Alice Munro, Kevin Barry, William Shakespeare, etc., I find I usually don’t get disappointed by their next book.

      Like

      Reply

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