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Trask by Don Berry

rsb97229, March 20, 2008

I have never written one of these reviews before, but this book is a true masterpiece and someone needs to say so. The story is based at least loosely in historical fact, and those familiar with the Oregon coast will recognize many of the landmarks of the story. The landscape itself plays an important role in this novel, though you need not know the land to appreciate it. The book is about Trask, a former mountain man who has married and settled in Northwest Oregon, west and south of Astoria. For reasons not fully explainable, he becomes restless and feels compelled to explore the Coast not far from his home by miles (maybe 25-50), but quite distant in other ways. He hires as his guide an Indian who knows the territory and also happens to have spirtual powers, but not in any unbelievable or new-age hokey sense. The new territory is inhabited by a tribe that has never lived with white men. Its chief is, like Trask and his guide, another remarkable character named Kilches, a large black Indian who is one of the most memorable ny fictional character in any genre. . Trask's encounter with the tribe heralds the beginning of the end of their largely untouched native civilization, and Kilches profoundly understands this from the get go. Trask is drawn to the new territory and asks permission to settle there, and in the course of being permitted to do so, ends up on a vision quest in the wilderness that is mystical in a way that is believable (even to a skeptic like myself). The culminating event is shocking and then very moving. Berry is (was) a very gifted writer. This is a novel of characters, ideas, and a suspensful plot line. Mr. Berry was a true master and I cannot wait to begin Moonstruck, the second book of the series. The new edition reveals that he attended Reed College with Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen, and had an interest in poetry and sculpting He was a young man when he wrote this book. I marvelled over the story, the language, the humor. It is one of the best books of fiction I have read in many years. It is a shame that Berry did not get the recognition that he deserved during his life. Hopefully, it will come posthumously.
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