Richard Wagamese's Medicine Walk

I’ve just finished Richard Wagamese’s novel Medicine Walk (2015), the first of his works I’ve ever read. This is not a full review, but I do highly recommend the book. Wagamese’s language is remarkable. His syntax is plain, but it brims with a concentration of metaphor that feels, simultaneously, ripely imaginative and honed to a fine edge by years of craft. And I intend “ripe” with its full range of meaning—fruitful, complete, and pungent from having stewed to an acid sharpness in lived experience. Wagamese reminds me of what I wished had happened to Peter S. Beagle after A Fine and Private Place; the virtuoso metaphors of that novel, which he wrote at nineteen, felt like electric links forged between objects by a young mind stumbling through the world for the first time. Beagle’s older fiction lost this quality, unfortunately. If it hadn’t, and if it had developed the restraint of maturity, it might have read something like Wagamese.

The most striking feature of Wagamese’s facility with metaphor is what I’ll call his “kinetic nouns,” for lack of a better term. He applies words like push, punch, and thrust to stationary objects, granting them the vividness of motion and capturing thereby something of their shape and character more deftly than several sentences of static description might. Some examples:

“He found a big thrust of chicken mushrooms and he skewered them on sticks and went back to set them over the fire alongside the fish.”

“Clouds of it roiling then dissipating in the early morning air as they chased each other, and the kid thought of fog and the way it shrouded the land in the frosted wet of spring and autumn, the punch of ridge or scarp or mountain behind it sudden as a bear.”

“He was alone in front of the fire that had been banked to an orange mound that threw a steady push of heat into the cabin.”

Wagamese sustains this level of metaphoric precision for the novel’s entire length, in the service of a surprisingly wide range of topics, given the novel’s straightforward story—nature, war, sex, parenthood. Wagamese’s prose does simply and quietly what we expect good poetry to do, and I would recommend reading this book like poetry: slowly, with relish.