Thursday, August 2, 2018

Gwen Florio

Gwen Florio grew up in a 250-year-old brick farmhouse on a wildlife refuge in Delaware and now lives in Montana. Currently the city editor for the Missoulian, Florio has reported on the Columbine High School shooting and from conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. In 2013, Montana, her first novel in the Lola Wicks detective series, won the High Plains Book Award and the Pinckley Prize for debut crime fiction.

Florio's latest novel is Silent Hearts.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Florio's reply:
I'm reading The Eight Mountains, by Paolo Cognetti.

This book was a bit of a whim; I think it was a Simon & Schuster special ebook offer. Anyhow, I like mountains and books about adventure (Cognetti is an alpinist) so I clicked, and immediately was hooked—liking it so much, in fact, that I headed over to my local independent bookstore, Fact and Fiction, for a hardcover copy.

The comparison to Elena Ferrante’s books (which I loved) is inevitable, if not quite parallel. In this case, the story follows to adulthood two boys, Pietro and Bruno, who meet when Pietro’s parents rent a house in Bruno’s mountain village to escape Milan’s summer heat. Pietro is educated, worldly; Bruno is rustic, spending his summer herding cows. But the boys share a love of the mountains, along with Pietro’s father, who leads them in exploring the wild heights, where for the first time Pietro sees a world beyond the forested hills his mother prefers. Cognetti captures the awe and elation such places inspire.
I was more attracted to the kind of mountainscape that comes afterward: Alpine meadows, torrents, wetlands, high-altitude herbs, grazing animals. Higher up again the vegetation disappears, snow covers everything until the beginning of summer; and the prevailing color is that of the gray rock, veined with quartz and the yellow of lichen. That was where my father’s world began. After three hours’ walking the meadows would give way to scree, to lakes hidden in glacial basins, to gorges gouged by avalanches, to streams of icy water. The mountain was transformed into a harsher place, inhospitable and pure; up there he would become happy.
Cognetti is an observant, sensitive writer, offering keen insights into his characters, and the different worlds they inhabit, the wonder of the mountains versus the creature comforts and companionship of the city, and the push-pull of those lives on his characters—and the fact that few of them actually have a choice as to which they’ll succumb.

For instance, Bruno reflects that his love of mountains comes from his mother, a reclusive woman. “We’re just like each other, me and her. ... Except that she’s a woman. If I decide to go and stay in the woods no one says anything about it. If a woman does it, she’s taken for a witch. If I keep quiet, what problem is there with that? I’m only a man who chooses not to speak. A woman who doesn’t speak must be half-crazy.”

That passage brought the slap of recognition. A favorite escape fantasy of mine involves a cabin in the high country, delicious solitude, tramping around the mountains in the afternoon for the physical exertion necessary as the antidote to the hard mental work of the morning’s writing. One of the reasons I live where I do is because of its proximity to wilderness, affording me the opportunity to steal away to the uninhabited places that inspire the same blend of peace and exhilaration Cognetti describes in his characters.

Would I give up my town life to retreat full-time to the forest or mountains? Almost certainly not. But, at least for the hours I was immersed in Cognetti’s book, I could share that existence with Pietro and Bruno.
Visit Gwen Florio's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Gwen Florio & Nell.

My Book, the Movie: Silent Hearts.

--Marshal Zeringue