April 06, 2020

Hitting the Trail in stride makes strong first novel

Editor’s Note: Freelance contributor Brad Viles has written a short novel about one person’s hike on the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Descriptive and imaginative, Viles steps outside his newspaper style to entertain even those of us who don’t have the wanderlust to spend days on the trail.

To assure that my working relationship didn’t interfere with a review of this work, I enlisted the help of my wife, Kathy, to review Viles’ writing.

I concur with her opinions about the book. I call your attention to the chapter about main character Ivy Burbank Mann’s conversation with the floor of his tent (which turned out to be the trail personified) or the chapter entitled the Dissolving Body about Mann’s out-of-body experience wherein his arms and legs disappear.


Dreaming the Appalachian Trail, by Brad Wayne Viles, 72 pages

I am not a hiker, certainly not in the sense that Brad Viles is a hiker. But I like to think that I am. And at the very least, I am a walker. I have even climbed Mt. Katahdin (once) and have been on the top of Springer Mountain in Georgia (the other end of the Appalachian Trail). Backpacking, well, that’s not in my repertoire at all, yet. So reading “Dreaming the Appalachian Trail” was a perfect way to spend the time recently during a drive to Rhode Island (I was the passenger!)

While my husband, Jeff, feels the pull of the ocean, both literally and figuratively, I seem to feel the same way about the earth and stepping upon it. In fact, I have recently begun to get in better physical shape to be able to do just that (although I am sure I will run out of time before I ever reach Brad’s level of expertise).

Written for hikers, you do not have to be one to enjoy this entertaining series of vignettes about life along the Appalachian Trail. In fact, whenever I read Brad’s adventures, either in his guest columns in the BDN or here in this novel, I get a renewed sense to get out and experience life and nature at its finest.

Brad says that he is most proud of his descriptions and storytelling in this book. He should be. Here are some of my favorites – “In all my years living in this place [Maine], I’ve never seen spring arrive on time. It’s always been like party guests who show up seasonably late, if they get there at all… I’m reasonably certain that a fine spring day makes it on celestial time somewhere, but not here. Not in Maine. I’m still not used to it.” Neither am I, Brad.

Another: “It’s a violent storm with fierce, shredding, shearing force that sounds like the wind’s equivalent of a breaking and entering. … The show is a big hit but the burglary is not successful because my tent still stands through the night.”

About the mountains: “The mountains form knees and joints where elbows bend. Valleys tuck themselves into the narrow curves…”

About the trail: “Understory growth, jewelweed, nettles and briars knot together on either side of the tread way. Then, like a sideman calling the pitch at a state fair, a crow suddenly announces an opening in the forest above. I look up to where the crow is not. … A crow sound barrier broken. The hole becomes a pond as I walk closer.”

About the weather: “The summer air rings with cicada’s vibrations, unseen like someone pressing a buzzer. Or an alarm. Not a car alarm. More like a fire door going off. It rang through air so heavy it could float a lead pipe.”

Then there are the stories, or vignettes – such as Spider’s note, The Story of Professor Spring, or Non-Stop, or Summer Student. And the description of my home state of New York was quite nice, and I even understood the part about “finding wild” in New Jersey. Imagine! Oh, the wonders of the Appalachian Trail.

Definitely enjoyable for hikers and nonhikers alike. For a first novel, it is truly impressive. Brad promises a new, “larger one” for next year. I look forward to it.

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