Revenants: A Dream of New England by Daniel Mills
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Would your tenth grade English class have been more enjoyable if The Scarlet Letter was a better-written book? Probably. One can only hope that someday Dan Mills's "Revenants: A Dream of New England" will replace The Scarlet Letter, and show young minds what literature can really do.
The Scarlet Letter was innovative and inventive, to be sure, but by any discerning standard it is poorly written. Characterizations are flat, action and insight are told and barely shown, and most of the events that are important to the narrative occur outside the confines of the pages. When he describes what happens, Hawthorne is a powerful wordsmith, but... Not. Much. Happens.
In Revenants, Dan Mills creates a fully-realized world, far richer and more captivating than Hawthorne's empty Boston. Most importantly, Mills fills that world with real people. These are people with histories, nuances, deep desires, and ancient guilts. They are a people of early America, and they are also you and your neighbor.
Most importantly, once this vivid world and characters are in place... things HAPPEN. Disappearances, strange sightings, adventures, heroic and desperate acts with consequences.
A third of the way into the book, a series of events forces the men of the village to enter the woods. Hawthorne's woods are only a barely realized symbol... and Mills's woods are also a place where our own passions and evils follow us and gain voice and misty reality... but these are woods so clearly and powerful drawn that you will scarce believe that your chair is still under you. You will wade through a frigid October bog, you will scramble between the sodden fir trees... and when the characters encounter terrors, be they imagined or real, you will know them yourself.
Revenants is a challenging book. It is at times slow, ponderous, and endlessly descriptive. The horrors are more like a deep burn than a sharp cut. But if you invest yourself in this book's world, you will learn something of fatherhood, something of passion, and you will know more fully how our actions must shape us, not our lifelong guilts or fears. You will gain and then lose sympathy for characters, you will admire the fallen, and you might encounter your own revenant.
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