It’s been four years since The Snow Child was published, and I’ve been waiting impatiently for the next book by Eowyn Ivey. Now that I’ve read To the Bright Edge of the World, I can see why it took several years to write. She stays within her niche of magical realism on the Alaskan frontier, but the story is much more complex and probably required extensive research.
To the Bright Edge of the World contains three narrative threads. We have the diary of Colonel Allen Forrester as he leads an expedition up the uncharted Wolverine River and the diary of his wife back at the military barracks. Then there’s the frame narrative of Walt Forrester, the Colonel’s great-nephew, sending the documents to a young museum curator. Ivey creates an excellent juxtaposition between the modern world and the wilderness encountered by the expedition. There’s a sense of what has been lost, but the novel doesn’t take a despairing tone. In fact, Sophie Forrester’s interest in photography shows how technology can sometimes provide new ways to appreciate the natural world.
I enjoyed the novel because it covers a wide range of emotional experiences. The Colonel’s diary has adventure and drama, but also had smaller character moments between members of the expedition. Sophie’s story deals with the conflicting desires and expectations in the life of a female intellectual. As one would expect from Ivey, there are endlessly gorgeous descriptions of nature and musings on the human experience. I wouldn’t necessarily expect to be interested in glaciers or hummingbirds’ nests, but I am when she writes about them.
This post reminded me of my internship at Coffee House Press when I was privileged to interview Eowyn Ivey for their blog. I would encourage you to check it out because she gives such lovely, thoughtful answers, and in hindsight I’m pleased with my questions as well. After reading To the Bright Edge of the World, one of her answers jumped out at me. In response to a question about common advice for aspiring writers, she said, “Write because you love to read, because you want to make a contribution to this wonderful conversation that has been going on for thousands of years.” Her latest novel is a conversation in itself—between frontiersmen and Native culture, between past and present.