So begins a page-turning adventure story that’s also a profound meditation on solitude and companionship, foreignness and home; a bildungsroman in the grand 19th-century tradition that is also a fierce critique of the romanticised myths of the settlement of the American west ... It’s a thrilling narrative, full of twists and turns, that sees Håkan make the journey from young boy to 'stupendously tall man'; and from innocence to experience – David Copperfield with a twist of Tarantino and Deadwood perhaps, or Great Expectations shot through with a dose of True Grit and Blood Meridian ... And yet that’s not quite a fair description. What Diaz pulls off here is that rare feat of drawing on literary and filmic traditions, only to conjure something completely fresh and strange. In the Distance is a brutal, sad, tender coming-of-age story, set in a historical past that feels both familiar and at the same time like nothing we’ve ever encountered before ... a singular and deeply affecting portrait of one man’s life in a rapidly changing world, unlike any old-school or revisionist western I’ve experienced.
Though many of its elements are familiar to the point of being worn out — saloons and wagon trains, Indians and gold prospectors — the novel is not ... The rebuilt mechanism is his own design, and it moves in unexpected directions: west to east, around in circles, down into the earth, and north to Alaska ... Håkan starves and thirsts. He survives and grows, in sorrowful wisdom and, inexplicably, to colossal size. And though he murders and maims and becomes a notorious outlaw, he is disgusted, and ultimately shattered, by his violence ... What [Diaz] concocted is strange and transporting, a story that approaches but never enters the realm of magical realism ... It’s a weirdness to which a reader willingly submits, because of the vigorous beauty of his words and his ability to keep Håkan’s bizarre adventures somewhere within sight of possibility ... An affecting oddness is the great virtue of In the Distance, along with its wrenching evocations of its main character’s loneliness and grief. And its ability to create lustrous mindscapes from wide-open spaces, from voids that are never empty.
Neither Hakan nor the reader can calculate how much time has passed in his wanderings; or which expanses of land he has passed through. Guided by the stars, or the remembrance that his brother once told him that a new sun rises each day, he blends with his surroundings, half-man, half-animal, covering himself with the pelts of the creatures he has killed and eaten in order to survive and protect himself against the freezing winters and devastating summers ... the only reference to significant historical incident such as the American civil war, for example, is made when Hakan briefly encounters soldiers merely described as men dressed in blue and grey. Ultimately it is not his quest to be reunited with his brother that impels the novel: it is a good old-fashioned yearning of the human spirit, and a beautifully commodious meditation on its absolute unknowability.
The story Håkan tells is a Western, of sorts. Or is it a mystical parable about a troubled world? Or perhaps an apocalyptic road novel, drenched in blood and fire and thirst? An elaborate homage to the Odyssey (or to Borges’ love of cowboys)? A historical novel about 18th-century migration to the U.S.? ... It is all of those things, though its deceptively simple narrative structure—a man tells a captive audience a gripping tale—manages to resist easy categorization. The prose is smooth and light, its protagonist and central character freed of weighty reflection, zig-zagging anxiety or any linguistic fireworks. Yet this lightness makes In the Distance a difficult thing to grasp; it is a book that rewards re-reading ... Díaz’s great gift lies in reconfiguring the possible, the expected, the taken-for-granted into something extraordinary.
Debut author Hernan Diaz depicts a bonafide Western character, an original born in the spirit of expansion and innovation and formed by 'the business of being that took up all his time.' Jorge Luis Borges’ influence on Diaz is palpable in his pithy prose; lists convey the sparsity of Håkan’s surroundings and the emptiness that feeds him again and again on his circular path. Diaz is bound to join ranks with Borges on the literary scene with this mythical personality, still at large in our consciousness long after we’ve put down the book.
The mythic qualities of Hernan Diaz’s novel, In the Distance, are distinctly American, recalling such figures as Paul Bunyan, Billy-the-Kid, even the bonding between Huck and Jim. Add in other American themes, especially the novel’s setting, and Diaz’s story (centering on immigration, the western settlement, plus endless space) and the result is a truly haunting narrative ... It’s a gorgeous journey, a profound homage to America’s natural beauty, plus the theme of living off the land as Håkan/Hawk keeps his eye on the distance, the future that he believes will finally restore his identity and unite him with his past ... Dip into Hernan Diaz’s In the Distance slowly, read a little bit at a time, enjoy the pure beauty of Hawk’s journey, his sense of being in America’s mythic past.
Fine writing, diverse and well-imagined exploits, and Håkan himself keep the pace flowing, and mounting tension over just how it will all end makes for long reading sessions ... As gritty, unromanticized tales of the American West go, In the Distance by Hernan Diaz ranks with classics like Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove.
In The Distance, like Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, relies on a foreigner with a noble mission to shed light on the often perverse values that underlied America's Westward expansion ... The pacing is excellent throughout, both on a paragraph and chapter level. Also, Diaz has dug deep into historical archives to pepper the story with details about life at the time - from how to load and fire a singleshot musket to building a mound hut and digging an underground cave bunker ... The carefully constructed sentences are long in length, and reflect the wanderings of Hawk. This may test some reader's patience, but they don't distract from this tale of isolation and frustration ... a methodical, haunting glance at the true dark heart of the antebellum American West.
With its choice of protagonist, the novel casts aside the stoic, steadfast settlers whose presence usually defines the Western and replaces them with a confused, often clumsy adolescent incapable of settling anywhere. Then, not content to simply humanize one of the faceless beggars among the 'wretched refuse' of the Old World’s 'teeming shore,' In the Distance makes playthings of the narrative trajectory and language that are typically found in both the Western and the New Western ... In the Distance never feels overstuffed or capricious, never reduces Håkan’s journey to a satire or a tragicomic picaresque. It achieves this feat largely because its prose is so tightly controlled, so grounded in its young protagonist’s perspective, and so respectful of the demands imposed on it by its guiding conceit ... There’s an ease and looseness to In the Distance that makes it easy to be immersed in the story of Håkan Söderström and to not have to attend too closely to Diaz’s technical tricks. But the novel is shot through with breathtaking imagery and moments of real profundity...and all of these derive their power from Diaz’s meticulous approach to his protagonist’s point-of-view. If the raw action of In the Distance would make it a compelling Western in any event, it is finally a novel of larger, more sweeping ambitions which it realizes through the sheer force of its style.
Violent, often surrealistic Wild West yarn, Cormac McCarthy by way of Gabriel García Márquez ... As Diaz, who delights in playful language, lists, and stream-of-consciousness prose, reconstructs his adventures, he evokes the multicultural nature of westward expansion, in which immigrants did the bulk of the hard labor and suffered the gravest dangers. One fine set piece is a version of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which religious fanatics dressed as Indians attack a pioneer party—save that in Diaz’s version, Håkan tears his way across the enemy force with a righteous fury befitting an avenging angel ... Not for the faint of heart, perhaps, but an ambitious and thoroughly realized work of revisionist historical fiction.
a brilliant and fresh take on the old-school western ... Diaz cleverly updates an old-fashioned yarn, and his novel is rife with exquisite moments ... The book contains some of the finest landscape writing around, so potent because it reflects Håkan’s solitude: 'Nothing interrupted the mineral silence of the desert. In its complete stillness, the world seemed solid, as if made of one single dry block.'