What is a map if not ultimately a tool to help us in our discovery of ‘Place’?
Place can be as meaningless as a red X proclaiming, “You are Here” or as monumental as your internal compass at some point in your life’s journey whispering, “You belong Here.”
Occasionally Place can be conflicting heartstrings, as when you return to your childhood hometown, wanting to find what existed long ago exactly the way your memory locked it in.
Silvia Villalobos, an author and Romanian transplant to Los Angeles, recently published her first novel, Stranger or Friend in which Los Angeles lawyer, Zoe Sinclair, returns to her hometown only to find her best friend murdered and her mother succumbing to age-related illnesses and refusing medical care.
As Zoe investigates her friend’s murder, she finds once-friendly townspeople reluctant to share what they know. Zoe is forced to confront more challenging circumstances than she anticipated as she realizes how much the town she once knew has changed.
Silvia creates believable characters and relationships, and brings her story to a satisfactory conclusion (something I find missing in many novels). I recommend her novel for the storyline as well as the many themes Silvia incorporated. If anything, I hope she delves deeper into a few of her themes in her planned Zoe sequel, especially the conflicts that come as towns become more demographically diverse, forcing changing workforces and cultural adjustments.
What I enjoyed as much as the novel itself was the amount of thematic background Silvia provided during April’s A to Z Challenge. One theme that resonated with me is our human need to find our sense of place.
In Silvia’s words, “People suffer through bad times – hurricanes, fires – and return to rebuild, as they feel they belong to the place as much as the place belongs to them.”
Silvia’s novel takes place in Wyoming, and she specifically references the northwest corner of the state where Yellowstone National Park and the majestic Teton Mountain Range are the state’s crowning beauties.
While I have traveled to those tourist-heavy natural wonders, I know a different Wyoming – that of the central and eastern plains where families have passed down homestead ranches and where mineral excavation and oil/gas drilling are the lifeblood of the economy.
A Wyoming where the wind blows so steadily no matter the season; the snow blusters so forcefully; and the sun blisters so intensely, you’ve got to develop a thick crust and a ‘git ‘er done’ attitude to survive, let alone thrive. Silva rightfully uses weather as a driving theme in her novel, and highlights the effect it has on the sociability and personality of Wyoming’s residents.
While I was reading Silvia’s novel, I was finishing up Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner. Much to my surprise and delight, two of the final four stories, “The Wolfer” and “Carrion Spring” take place in Wyoming. Stegner wrote about the spring of 1907 after four months of brutal forty degree below zero cold snaps with intermittent wild, warming Chinook winds and continuous blizzard whiteouts and fog. Most of the cattle did not survive; the wolves were running rampant to feast on the carnage; and the wolfer and his vicious hound dog eventually succumbed in gruesome scenes when their trapping plan went awry.
Coincidentally, when I reread Silvia’s A to Z posts, I realized she quoted Wallace Stegner in her ‘Place’ post, “The knowledge of place that comes from working in it, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings and evenings…”
Much as I like to think of myself as a Pioneer Woman, I haven’t worked the land in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico or Arizona nor suffered most of their catastrophes, but I love the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains and Southwest Desert. Every fiber in me knows this is where I belong … my sense of place. Much of my heart resides with my Michigan family but Colorado is my rightful home.
Thanks to Silvia Villalobos and Wallace Stegner for celebrating ‘Place’.
I’m curious about my readers.
- Are you transplants who have found your ‘place’?
- Lifelong residents of your birthplace?
- Feel like a foreigner when revisiting your birthplace?
- Multi-placers who split you time living in more than one place? If so, is one ‘home’?
- Still seeking? How? Where?
I am also interested to hear about authors you like who write about ‘YOUR place’ in a way that holds meaning for you. (Prompt?)
Occasionally I scroll through Andrea Reads America where Andrea provides author quotes linking the author to their state . She reads and reviews several books taking place in a state then she ‘moves on’ to another state. Fascinating!