Recovering from a terrible auto accident just before the turn of the millennium, college dropout and hobbyist computer-game programmer Lucien Swenson becomes the caretaker of a house in northern Minnesota. His search will take him to Rose of Sharon, a white supremacist church deep in the wilderness, where a cabal of outcasts await the end of the world at a place they call The Land.
'Hear my tale,' howls Mary Shelley’s monster across a frozen wasteland in Frankenstein ... Lucien’s story, Maltman’s novel (like Shelley’s), is a spiritual quest for meaning, a lamentation on loneliness, and a tense tale of the infectious nature of 'paranoia and fear.' If you ask me, it’s a parable for our time ... The novel is rich with biblical and literary imagery. A few times there’s too much exposition, but Lucien’s search for meaning (and for Maura) quickly moved me beyond those moments ... when I finished reading I was reminded not of Shakespeare, or Shelley, or even the Bible, but of James Joyce. In Joyce’s novella, The Dead, Gabriel, the main character, watches the snow fall outside his window when 'his soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe … upon the living and the dead.'
Thomas Maltman, who has written two critically acclaimed books, uses the months in the runup to Y2K as the setting for The Land, a dark and disturbing novel that is beautifully and fearfully told ... The Land is a marvelous novel, and there is no good place to stop reading it. One is never quite sure at all times if Lucien saw what he says he saw, because he is rarely certain himself. It makes for a haunting work that runs its tendrils across the back of the brain long after the last paragraphs have been consumed.
The prose of this novel is sparse and somewhat conversational, reflecting Lucien’s age and the bleakness of a Minnesota winter. We’re thrown into lengthy descriptions of dated technology and Christian meditation, but as someone unacquainted with either, I found the verbiage easy to navigate. The Land reads quickly, for a time ... The Land spreads itself thin with atmosphere, with paranoia, with characters that float in and out, with mysterious ravens that spill their carnage in the snow. But the plot propels itself, compelling readers to the end. And the discomfort lives on. 1999 was twenty-one years ago, but the threat of white supremacy unfortunately remains.