Written by Lauryn Smith
“The Divide” by Nicholas Evans is one of those books you can pick up and get lost in, best read on a cloudy day with a cup of hot tea and a sky-high pile of blankets. OK, that sounds a little ostentatious. Let me explain.
“The Divide” is a mellow, meandering read. In it, Evans evokes a rustic, hospitable lifestyle, effortlessly inviting readers to experience Montana’s mountains, ranches and genial residents. After reading the book, it is easy to want to run off to a cozy cabin in the woods, take the trails on horseback and then porch it with that steaming cup of tea I mentioned.
The fictional story concerns the Coopers, a New York family that spends two weeks each summer on a remote ranch in Montana. On one such trip, the father, Ben, meets an artist from Santa Fe named Eve, for whom he leaves his wife and two teenagers. Around the time Ben walks out on his family, his daughter, Abbie, moves to Montana for college. While still vulnerable from the breaking of her family, Abbie gets involved with a group of radical conservationists, an involvement that ultimately leads to her being wanted for murder and acts of ecoterrorism.
Evans hints at the story’s main event in the opening chapter, which describes an outing during which a couple of skiers find a cold body—Abbie’s body. The rest of the story? The series of incidents leading up to and surrounding Abbie’s demise.
As he weaves the story, Evans demonstrates his terrific balance of literary elements. However, "The Divide" did not grip me as fully as some of the other novels Evans has written (“The Loop,” for instance). Perhaps my underdeveloped connection to the novel stems from the repugnant perspectives Evans presents, such as Ben’s rationalization that cheating on his wife, Sarah, is a minor transgression due to its rarity. On the other hand, my aversion might be due to the cupcakes-and-daisies nature of some elements of the story, such as Sarah’s 50th birthday party, a concluding scene involving a tasteful band, tons of friends and a heart-wrenching toast.
Admittedly, both of these things do not detract from the overall success of the novel. Evans is a truly talented writer. His prose is seamless, his imagery lush and his detailing complete. His style makes the story captivating, enchanting.
A defining feature of “The Divide” is that it is told from a number of viewpoints. At first the back and forth can be difficult to muddle through, but as the novel progresses, the alternating angles enrich the plot. The characters’ individual accounts are well organized, and they intertwine in ways that effectively flesh out the narrative.
It can be argued that the purpose of “The Divide” is to illustrate human nature. Evans presents many ideologies, the clearest concerning big businesses. He discusses the adversities some corporations afflict on the environment, and he concentrates on the people who actively stand against those corporations. He also touches on how people who make an honest living off the land can have that ability snatched from them as a result of corporate expansion.
Deeper interpretation of the text reveals another complexity—that the search for happiness is cumbersome. Take Ben for example. He essentially betrays his family by pursuing Eve. Likewise, Abbie becomes isolated from her friends and family as a result of standing up for what she believes in. Evans reveals a universal truth—despite good intentions, pain is part of life, and dealing with that pain is how one grows and moves forward.
Overall, “The Divide” has a good mix of seriousness and lightheartedness. Evans houses some intriguing paradigms within a matrix of art. If desired, this book can be read purely for fun. Yet if you take time to ponder the origins of the various emotions Evans illustrates, “The Divide” can be quite compelling.
Anyone who appreciates obscured musings will enjoy “The Divide,” as will those who like stories with well developed subplots. In addition, those who are fascinated with the American West, or those who are eager to experience it, will find much to value in “The Divide.” Though born and raised in England, Evans says that he is “obsessed” with that part of America. His love for the location is elegantly exemplified... and contagious.
Title: The Divide
Author: Nicholas Evans
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication date: September 27, 2005
Page count: 512
List price: $9.99
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