Kingdomtide tells the story of two women, one who is lost in wilderness following a plane crash, the other a ranger who is determined to find her.
Cloris Waldrip and her husband are retirees, living comfortable and conventional lives at the heart of their church and community in Texas. As a treat Cloris’s husband has arranged for them to travel to their vacation by private plane. When the plane crashes in Montana’s remote and unforgiving Bitterroot range, only Cloris survives. Dazed and in shock, she makes a number of poor decisions which makes her rescue more difficult, but she does manage to communicate that she is alive.
Debra Lewis is the park ranger who is determined to find Cloris. She rails against her colleagues and insists they continue the search for Cloris long after she is believed to be dead. She is one of a small community of outsiders who make up the rescue team or live a tough and isolated life in the range.
We know from the beginning of Kingdomtide that Cloris will be rescued, because her story takes the form of a first-person narrative told some years later from the comfort of a retirement home. Lewis’s story, on the other hand, is narrated in the third person and with immediacy. We don’t know what will happen to her.
I was really absorbed by Cloris’s narrative. Because we know she will be rescued we are gripped instead by how she survives an apparently impossible situation. Telling the story with hindsight means she is able to lighten the horror of the situation she finds herself in and her struggles with the loss of her husband, with wry observations of her life before and since. She is able to share insights she could not have had at the time, and to foreshadow events.
At times there is humour among the bleakness and the terror. She speaks movingly about her marriage and the disappointments in her life, as well as making arch observations about her fellow churchgoers. She shows how her experiences change her (although I’m not sure the profound change promised at the beginning of the novel is really evident).
I felt more ambivalent about the Lewis side of the story. Her own backstory is interesting and there are some great insights into the way of life of the people living in that unforgiving and remote area. Their heightened strangeness was initially intriguing but at times verged on the grotesque.
Sometimes when you finish a book, and are no longer swept along by the plot, you see more in it, you appreciate subtleties that stay with you. Unfortunately, with Kingdomtide, I had the opposite experience. Curtis seems to be making certain points about morality which I struggled with. Of course, the views of individual characters are not necessarily those of the author, but taken collectively, you can get a sense of what Curtis wants to say, and in this case I felt a bit queasy about his apparent conclusion. (I’m sorry to be enigmatic about this, but I don’t want to give away the story.)
Still, I would definitely recommend you read it and make up your own mind. It’s an absorbing read and Cloris is an unforgettable character.
I received a copy of Kingdomtide from the publisher via Netgalley.
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