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WITH
Donald Harington
Toby Press
Fiction
ISBN: 1592640508


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 vegetables.

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


From Southern Living
Books About the South

With
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.
Nancy Dorman-Hickson


The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 25, 2004

In the Ozarks, tale begins in evil and zigs unexpectedly


With
By Donald Harington
Toby Press. 491 pp. $19.95

If you aren't considered America's greatest novelist, there's a certain cachet to being known as "America's greatest unknown novelist."

A number of contemporaries, colleagues and critics have put Donald Harington on that unknown throne - and he is certainly a legitimate pretender and contender.

When, as 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.

That's 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.

In 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.

This 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.

It 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 former barrel-maker.

Alan has 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.

With his 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.

But as 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.

So she 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 her own.

Once 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.

We and 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.

Between 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.

Which 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.

What she 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 world... .

"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 satisfied... .

"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.

Contact staff writer Marc Schogol at 610-313-8112 or mschogol@phillynews.com.


Click on the clipping for the complete review from the Memphis Commercial-Appeal by Fredric Koeppel.  May 2, 2004


Read Philip Martin's Article, Donald Harington: Part courage, part skill, part mystery , which appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 25th, 2004.

 


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