Feral a novel by Deena Metzger. (2011, Hand to Hand Publishing). Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.
A story that takes you into and out of your self is a good story. This is such a story. One of the best I’ve read in years. “The girl postulated an entire universe by her mere existence.” Is an apt description of Feral. Within seconds of the opening, it becomes apparent that one has stepped into a familiar, yet alternate landscape. There is no preamble, pretense or long description of the journey upon which you are embarking. It has an immediacy and aliveness that take hold upon first sight.
Deena Metzger’s story about the connection between a woman, who is later called Owl Woman and a girl, who is at times known as Azul, blurs distinctions between who is saving who and looks intimately at the way we define and see our selves. In one moment of clarity, the woman realizes, “She was wrapped completely in the shimmer of her own mind.” It is these illusions and myths of what is real that Ms. Metzger explores and plays with so exquisitely that readers immediately lose themselves within the story. The woman wonders, “Was there anything in her mind that belonged to her? Or was everything in her mind something she had gathered or been given by others?” The girl can sense the woman’s mind chatter and says, “It’s such a burden, all your knowing. It makes me tired.”
The author uses words, timing and nuance like none other. An example of this brilliance is seen in the following. “Feral was the word she used to explain the girl and what the girl was doing to her. Feral. It was efficient. Feral. Again. Good.” Language is a thing. It has power, meaning and weight. It appears that there is not a word in this novel that is written without mindful intention. “She recognized that she had always sought out those who would challenge her and open the door to new ways of living.” That is what this story does for readers. It challenges us to re-consider what we tell ourselves about the life we live and what living authentically demands of our attention and time.
Everything in Feral is alive and asks us to be real. It is a beautifully told story, which blurs the lines between nonfiction and fiction. The girl tells the woman, who has been trying to counsel or “help” her that, “I don’t want to know your secrets. And I certainly don’t think I can fix anything. I just want you to be real.”
Could it be that there is no distinction between species and the differences we create within our tribes of being to describe another are illusions we have constructed to give us a sense of control and righteousness? Is it possible that we are all teachers and students in symbiotic relationships with one another, such as the characters referred to as “woman” and “girl” are in Feral?
One of the themes that runs through the story like an underground river, which can be heard, but not always seen, are questions about our shared responsibility to one another and the planet. The woman realizes that the girl has experienced and is aware of a great amount of suffering and tells her that she doesn’t have to hold on to it, but the girl says, “Someone has to carry it?” Does she? Does some “one”? Does anyone have to carry “it” or do we all carry it? Could it be that carrying suffering creates more suffering? Are there times when we’ve convinced ourselves that suffering is the only way we can stay connected with the past (people and events) and use it as a means to avoid the present and take responsibility for what exists now in front of our face? Do we have the courage and animal instincts to open our eyes and not turn away from what is real or painful?
Reading Feral wakes you up. It provides a sense of being more alive, aware and connected than you were before you embarked. With the inner strength of a well-grounded counselor, writer, naturalist and human who includes all life in her being, it is told with integrity, grit and wisdom.