Ginger’s Narcissistic One-Body Book Club Presents: Travels in a Strange Country

A little while ago, I bloviated about a book series that I really like: Deborah Coates’ books about Hallie Michaels. When I wrote that post, I was still waiting for the newest book in the series, Strange Country, to arrive. Most of my original discussion of the series centered on Hallie Michaels as a character (especially as a female character who served as the narrative POV for the books). That’s an important part of my reaction to the books in general and to Coates’ writing in particular — Hallie’s inner world seemed to sit especially well with her outer world (i.e., rural South Dakota, riddled with supernatural stuff) in the spare, elegant language Coates used to express it.

Imagine the oddity, then, of my experience of the abrupt switch in Strange Country to Boyd Davies’ point of view for part of the book. [Again: Mild spoilers follow the cut. If you don’t read the last page first like I do, then consider yourself warned and toddle along to something less revealing.]
Before I go on: I really, really liked this book. It was much better than Cats. I will read it again and again. Almost everything I loved about its predecessors kept me on board here, and I like the way in which Coates moves the characters along in their understated world.
The jump to Boyd, however, was a bit awkward at first, in part because I’d gotten so used to seeing him through Hallie’s eyes. It as difficult to see his inner world as his, and not some odd extension of Hallie’s, in part because the way Hallie sees him makes it seem (to me, anyway) that the language he would use to himself, for himself, and about himself would be…well, somehow different from what it was in this book. For me, as a reader invested in the narrative voice of the previous books, the strangest country of them all was Boyd himself.
It took me a second read to really make that impression settle in with my appreciation of the whole book and the story Coates is telling. Not only are other people a strange country to us all, but we may even be strangers to ourselves (as Boyd himself eventually discovers when he finally embraces the truth about his death in Deep Down and what it means for his life and his relationship with Hallie). There is something absolutely beautiful about the way this all plays out with a relative lack of histrionics, and quite a lot of soul-searching in a form consistent with the character. The other nice thing about the switch to Boyd is that we can also learn this: sometimes a stranger can see something about a place that the residents never notice. Just so: as mysterious as Hallie might sometimes be to him, Boyd sees something true about her that she doesn’t quite see in herself at first.
I especially like that the characters in this series actually grow. That’s not always true for series characters. Sometimes (like the old Nick Carter radio serials) series characters become frozen — the story depends on them being exactly who they are, and never anything else. One of the reasons I’ve come to love the recent Sherlock series is because it lets Sherlock and Watson alike grow in ways that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself really never did. Coates’ characters grow in response to the changes in their lives (both human and supernatural), and the way they grow is fitting. They are corn and soybeans in breadbasket country, reaching toward the sun.

About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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