‘Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac’: a search for mom and monster
In Spokane writer Sharma Shields’ debut novel, “The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac,” a man who believes his mother ran off with a Sasquatch devotes much of his life to looking for the mythical monster. Shields appears Thursday, Jan. 29, at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co.
Special to The Seattle Times
The author of “The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac” will appear at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29, at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co.; free (206-624-6600 or elliottbaybook.com).
‘The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac’
by Sharma Shields
Henry Holt, 352 pp., $17
What a queer bestiary thrives in the fertile mind of Sharma Shields! The Spokane author populated her 2012 short-story collection, “Favorite Monster,” with a cast of characters ranging from Cyclops to werewolves to serpent-haired Medusa. Now it seems clear that those earlier stories adumbrated the stinking, howling, cackling, scarred and shaggy creatures in Shields’ just-published debut novel, “The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac.”
The story begins in a pine forest that blankets both sides of the Washington-Idaho state line. Nine-year-old Eli Roebuck lives in a small cabin in that forest with his mother and father. But the life he has always known is about to change when his discontented mother, Agnes, abandons the family to run off with a large, hairy brute she calls Mr. Krantz. To Eli, his mother’s new love looks to be a Sasquatch.
From that point on, there is a hole in Eli’s life — one that he unsuccessfully tries to fill with pet dogs, med school, a wife, a daughter and then a second wife, and another daughter.
Eli’s abandonment by Agnes affects all of these later relationships. He is forgetful, easily distracted and emotionally distant. That has deleterious consequences for both of his marriages and both of his daughters.
First wife Gladys descends into probably certifiable nuttiness. Daughter Amelia, the product of that union, acts out in rebellion and wrath. Ginger, Eli’s younger daughter by second wife Vanessa, labors under a massive guilt complex.
But Eli, following his own distant drummer, tends inadequately to the upsets and upheavals in the lives of his womenfolk. He ditches his career as a podiatrist and instead takes up an investigation that consumes him for the rest of his life — his quest to find Bigfoot — the creature who apparently wooed his mother away.
“The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac” keeps tabs on Eli’s gimlet-eyed forays into the woods, but also circles back to check in on the caroming emotions and various exploits of Gladys, Amelia, Vanessa, Ginger, Agnes, and even Mr. Krantz. Each one grapples with his or her own internal demons and flesh-and-blood monsters in the perennial search for belonging.
But truth be told, beneath their ornately described weirdness, a few of these characters actually are pretty one-dimensional, and some of the dialogue and interior monologues have as much zip as flat ginger ale.
Still, the entertainment quotient of this book remains high overall: Shields’ audacious bundling of so many characters and their accompanying plights into one supernaturally tinged story results in a veritable reading roller coaster — peaks and valleys of psychological terror, allegorical whimsy, satire and gross-out humor flash by in dizzying turn.
The central problem comes down to establishing proof — of love, commitment or (more basically) existence. Can it be detected in scat or a footprint found along a trail? Are scars proof enough of survival? And how does one really toe that nebulous line called commitment?
“The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac” plays with these ideas, tosses them up into the air, lets them drift back down and shape-shift into curiosities and “strangeisms.” Finally, it bats them your way so that you, too, may be confounded, provoked and charmed.