Donald Harington's prepositionally titled new novel, WITH, revisits the
dying town of Stay More, Arkansas, the Ozark encampment that served as the
setting for three of his previous novels (which have been handsomely
re-issued by Toby Press). The town and its environs resemble Faulkner's
Yoknapatawpha County, but as the story begins, Stay More is dying the
same death as so many rural communities throughout the United States.
Ignoring the plea of the town's name, its residents are moving to bigger
cities or heading out west to California.
This is exactly what Sugrue "Sog" Alan, a Stay More native and former police
officer, claims to be doing when he sells all his possessions and stocks up
on supplies; he even goes so far as to place a sign reading, "Gone to
California," in the window of his ramshackle home. Sog's intention, however,
is not westward migration, but a sojourn in the Ozarks --- with a kidnapped
eight-year-old girl named Robin Kerr.
Abducting her from a skating rink, Sog secrets Robin away to the old,
abandoned Madewell homestead, "resting on top of one of the highest
mountains in Newton County and practically impossible to get to nowadays."
Miles and miles of tough, treacherous terrain separate them from the nearest
human, and no vehicle can go beyond the last "terrible mile of ravines and
the rocky ledge along the bluff and a godforsaken forest trail."
Here, Sog teaches her how to live off the land, but after he leaves her ---
and I'll let Harington tell you how he does --- Robin is left alone in a
house with no electricity, no running water, no communication. But while her
feelings toward Sog are understandably complicated --- "After all, he was
all she had in this world" --- she manages to survive without television and
radio, to get water from the well, and to shoot wild boar and garden
Robin makes friends with the animals who wander through the yard, especially
Sog's dog. He always calls her Bitch, but her name is actually Hreapha,
which is the sound of her bark. (In Harington's mythology, dogs only speak
their names, the reverse of human speech, as humans so very rarely say their
own names.) As the weird and wonderfully inventive story develops, Robin's
circle of faunal friends grows to include a bobcat named (of course) Robert,
a stag named Dewey, a king snake named Queen of Sheba, a raccoon named
Ralgrub (burglar spelled backwards), and a bear named Paddington, among many
others. Not only are these animals articulate characters, but Harington
devotes chapters to many of them, letting them tell the story from their own
perspectives and in their own voices.
She also befriends the spirit of a boy named Adam Madewell, who grew up on
the mountain that bears his family name and lived in the house Robin and her
pets now occupy. However, since the corporeal version of him still lives and
breathes in Napa Valley, California, this version of Adam is no mere ghost,
but rather is what he and the animals know as an in-habit--- "an invisible,
unsmellable presence, a second self beyond the sense." Or, as Hreapha
explains, "An in-habit is part of someone who loves a particular place so
much that regardless of where they go they always leave their in-habit
behind." It's a complex notion, one whose mysteries saturate nearly every
page of WITH, and Harington wisely leaves it nebulous and puzzling, the
better to pique the reader's imagination.
As this long novel progresses, it becomes increasingly epic an intricate in
story and scope, with Robin discovering her own ingenuity and sexuality as
she matures into a self-possessed woman. Parallel to this maturation,
Harington makes the novel more and more formally playful by revealing deeper
and deeper layers to the story and its narrator. "Art is a form of a hiding
and a seeking and a finding," observes Robert the bobcat, "and that which is
hidden is more magically stimulating." Harington adheres steadfastly to this
aesthetic by burying ideas deep in the tale and only revealing them slowly
and gradually, a story as striptease. As a result, the final hundred pages
are as finely imagined and gorgeously whimsical as anything you're likely to
read this year.
Or, as one of the canine characters declares, "In all my born days I never
heard tell of such marvels."
--- Reviewed by Stephen M. Deusner
Books About the South
by Donald Harington (the Toby Press llc, $19.95)
At first, this suspenseful plot, set mostly on
an isolated Ozark mountaintop, revolves around a seemingly horrific fate for
an innocent child. We learn the story through the perspectives of the young
girl, her abductor, and even the abductor's dog. The story then shifts to
the girl as she matures without the benefit of other humans, yet she thrives
with the aid of the dog and a menagerie of other befriended animals.
The Arkansas novelist takes us to an
imaginative place where we care deeply about each personality. And the
ending, oh my, the ending. Suspense story. Love story. Ghost story.
Coming-of-age story. Take your pick. Each one accurately describes this
Ozarkian world you'll love to inhabit.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 25, 2004
Ozarks, tale begins in evil and zigs unexpectedly
By Donald Harington
Toby Press. 491 pp. $19.95
aren't considered America's greatest novelist, there's a certain cachet
to being known as "America's greatest unknown novelist."
of contemporaries, colleagues and critics have put Donald Harington on
that unknown throne - and he is certainly a legitimate pretender and
is the case with Harington, it's a Southern writer who is so dubbed, he
or she often also is hailed as the new or next Thomas Wolfe or William
Faulkner or Eudora Welty - authors steeped in the deep, dark Southern
gothic style in which ominously dripping moss seems to physically and
symbolically hang heavily everywhere, blotting out all but the faintest
traces of light in endless, heavily freighted lines of text that have
more comas, semicolons, colons and dashes than the Mississippi River has
fish, frogs, snakes, catfish and all the other creatures that dwell in
the stygian depths of that Homeric waterway.
literally and figuratively not where Harington is coming from. His home
and heritage is the Ozarks - that mountainous region of Missouri,
Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas. There, the literary model is the
storyteller, and Harington, an Arkansan, is a teller of marvelous tales.
previous novels, Harington has created the Ozark Mountains village of
Stay More, where we've met all manner of interesting characters in the
course of reading all manner of strange and wondrous yarns.
Harington's small but devoted circle of fans will be delighted to learn
that in With, we return to Stay More for a tale that may be the
author's most magical, mystical tour.
although it begins in a way that seems to portend evil and death. But
then, it zigs in a completely unexpected direction that tells quite
another story entirely.
starts on an almost totally inaccessible mountaintop, where a sexually
predatory, soon-to-be ex-cop named Sog Alan takes over the
long-abandoned and effectively totally forgotten home and hearth of a
an as-yet-unfulfilled letch for little girls. So what he does is
announce that he's retiring from the police force, selling his house,
and moving to California.
Meanwhile, he exhaustingly and exhaustively stocks the mountaintop -
marvelously named Mount Madewell - with what he hopes is a lifetime's
supply of canned goods and other nonperishable necessities and luxuries
so he and the second-grade girl for whom he lusts and who he plans to
kidnap won't ever have to go back down to town.
supply dump and no communications with the outside world, he believes
he'll never have to be seen in public again, so there'll be nothing to
call into question his declaration that he was leaving the area. He thus
will be able to have his way with the little girl without any danger of
discovery or punishment.
high up as he is, he can't escape the highest power. He is unable
because of sexual impotence and failing health to consummate the
intended abuse, and his weakened state allows the very precocious as
well as lovely child to slay him.
is safe from Sog Alan. However, she is still atop a peak she cannot
descend with no way of calling for help - and too young to survive on
again, this could be the beginning of a tragic ending. Yet once again,
Harington avoids going down that mountain road, instead giving us and
the girl a dog and other animals that can and do speak for themselves
and help the little tyke.
she also meet what Harington calls the in-habit - the ghostlike,
childhood self that no matter how far from home we roam always is there
- of the adolescent son of the property's previous owner.
the animal friends and the spirit presence of the boy, little Robin has
a plethora of teachers and companions. And with the devil dead, the
mountaintop becomes a veritable Eden. Dress: very optional.
sets up the extremely moving ending, when an older, very Eve-like Robin
confronts and - after the surprising appearance of a kindred Adamic soul
- is confronted by the choice of how to live the rest of her life.
chooses is the stuff of a master storyteller's storybook ending.
"The principal knot of this whole narrative will not of necessity
have been our love story, but the more intricate knot of a girl's
passage into womanhood in a condition of isolation and seclusion from
the mundane milieux of society," Harington writes.
"The untying of that knot, consequently, will be a matter
of that woman's decision either to remain in seclusion or to allow
herself to accept and to receive certain satisfactions from the outside
"A good denouement... a graphic French word derived from the
untying of knots... will not merely untangle the knots of a story, but
will attempt to unscramble the reader's feelings, or, to use the
overworked analogy of narrative climaxes and sexual climaxes, a good
denouement will leave you sighing in dreamy contentment, exhausted but
"There will remain only one more wonder in this wondrous journey:
the moment when your in-habit, dear creative reader, will come
into existence and take possession of these pages."
And when Harington - in the spirit and the flesh - is widely
recognized as a master at filling those pages.
staff writer Marc Schogol at 610-313-8112 or
Click on the clipping for the complete
review from the Memphis Commercial-Appeal by Fredric Koeppel.
May 2, 2004
Martin's Article, Donald
Harington: Part courage, part skill, part mystery
, which appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April