Lin Enger

"Undiscovered Country"

(Reviewed by Tony Ross AUG 18, 2008)

Undsicovered Country by Lin Enger

This striking debut novel opens in California with an adult narrator explaining that he's finally going to write down the truth about what happened back home in Minnesota some ten years ago, in what what seems to be the early 1980s (although it often seems more like the '40s or '50s). Jesse's never told his younger teenage brother Magnus the truth -- and this manuscript is going to lay it all out for him. Ten years ago, when Jesse was 17, he was hunting deer with their father in the woods outside Battlepoint, MN. Sitting in his blind, he heard a shot from where his father was a few hundred yards away. He ran over to find the top half of his father's head blown off, in an apparent act of suicide. Although the local authorities confirm this, Jesse was very close to his father (who was also the local mayor and restaurateur) and does notbelieve he would have killed himself.

What ensues is a taut psychological mystery, as Jesse's mother retreats into a depressive shell and Jesse starts poking around, trying to figure out who might have wanted to kill his father and why. This leads him pretty much straight to his father's brother Clay, a knockabout rouge who's never been able to make much of himself. Jesse knows that his still-beautiful mother dated Clay before his father came along, and suspects Uncle Clay of harboring deep resentment against his successful brother. Even though there's no evidence of murder, and his mother tries to dissuade him, Jesse is spurred on by repeated visitations from his father's ghost. The question then becomes whether or not Jesse will require any evidence before deciding his uncle is guilty, and what form his revenge will take if he does decide that way.

Yes, this is a reworking of "Hamlet," but the handling of Jesse's desperate internal struggle feels fresh and vivid, as the teenager struggles with very adult issues he's not quite prepared for. Matters are further complicated by his developing relationship with an immigrant classmate who has her own dire family problems to grapple with. For the most part the writing does a great job of capturing the blinding anger and confusion of a teenager, although at times it does slip into allowing Jesse and his girlfriend to be a touch too articulate or wise. Reworkings of classics are usually either fun romps or total flops -- this is that rarest of outcomes, one well worth reading on its own merit.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Undiscovered Country at Hachette Book

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About the Author:

Lin EngerLin Enger grew up in Minnesota lake country and spent most of his life in Minnesota. He earned his MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he also taught.

He has received several awards for his fiction including a James Michener Fellowship, a Minnesota Arts Board Fellowship and others. His short stories have appeared in Glimmer Train, Ascent, Great Review, Wolf Head Quarterly, and other journals.

In the 1990s, he collaborated with his brother Leif Enger, on a mystery series for Pocket Books.

Lin Enger lives with his wife and children in Moorhead, Minnesota and teaches English at Minnesota State University in Moorhead. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014