Book Review: The Wanderground by Sally Miller Gearheart

 The Wanderground

Jacqua stood above the Eastern Esconcement gazing across the high meadow.

I recently inherited a number of excitingly feminist ’70s and ’80s works, among them this title, and have pretty much vanished from the world of human interaction since. I imagine there will be a few reviews of them up here, but I may well make a recommendation list just in case I don’t get around to all of them – they’re very good.

The Wanderground is an odd yet loveable book. I rarely read Utopian fiction, and I’m not 100% certain that it is the right classification for this work, but it’s how I would label it. This book is unique in many ways; for a start, it does not have a traditional plot structure. There is a conflict that requires resolution, but the book is more a palimpsest of experiences that layer over each other, only creating the finished picture when all is complete.

There are no main characters – many people recur throughout the book. Sometimes I lost track of them, and at first this worried me. Eventually I just relaxed into reading and trusted that I would remember anything that needed remembering. It was a bit like having water fall over my head.

The Wanderground is a strange vision of the world, a world in which the earth and the animals have risen up against patriarchy, and men can no longer survive outside cities. Women, those of them who are free, live out in the hills. They are rebuilding what it means to be women, to be human, to love and to live and it is fascinating. The time flickers back and forth, diving into memory at times. Everything seems malleable – reality itself is being reinvented. Everything from the way the women think to the way they travel is new and different, in a state of change and harmony with the surrounding world.

It’s a hard book to review, because I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like it before. There are so many ideas in it that interested me that I feel in danger of pontification. So I will just say that The Wanderground was slow, painful and joyful at turns. I was never quite sure what I thought of it, but I read it through to the end and felt it was time well spent. Some of the ideas feel dated now, however in a time when much fiction seems obsessed with increasingly dystopian worlds, it was refreshing to visit something more utopian and hopeful. A distinct, outlandish work that nevertheless succeeds both in its worldbuilding and its storytelling.

PS I could not find a good cover image, and so had to make do with a photo of my copy instead.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. peterosser
    Apr 18, 2016 @ 20:50:15

    Pontification? Will you literally become the pope? That didn’t go well for Pope Joan in a very obscure film I once saw late at night on BBC2.


  2. Meredith
    Apr 18, 2016 @ 20:56:59

    Ah Pope Joan, she of the giving birth in an alley fame! I suppose I could do that (the being Pope, not the giving birth), although my lack of Catholicism might be a problem.
    As I suspect you knew, Pete Rosser, I was using ‘pontificate’ to mean ‘express one’s opinions in an annoyingly pompous or dogmatic way’ :p


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