Benjamin Percy’s debut novel, The Wilding (Graywolf, 288 pages, $23), hits bookstores Tuesday. This gripping novel tells the story of a man, his father, and his son taking one last hunting trip into a wooded canyon near Bend that’s slated to be razed for development. Publishers Weekly wrote, “It’s as close as you can get to a contemporary Deliverance.”
Percy is an award-winning short story writer and teaches in Iowa State University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing & Environment and Seattle Pacific University’s Low Residency MFA Program. Percy regularly writes stories and articles for Esquire, the Wall Street Journal, Outside, and Poets & Writers. He recently sold his next novel, Red Moon, to Grand Central/Hachette. He also recently did an interview with Jenny Shank on New West.
When asked if The Wilding grew out of his experience as a father, Percy says, “I’ve found that over time, as things enter into my life, whether that’s falling in love with somebody or falling out of love with somebody, being betrayed, grieving, marrying, having a child—when these things happen, you push into a new level of consciousness. This is true of anyone, but writers are maybe more aware of it because you can look on the page as it’s documented, as your psychology matures, and as your concerns and fears grow rounder. So yeah, as a father, I have a whole host of interests and concerns that now take up a good deal of my life and years ago didn’t exist at all. You see that manifested in The Wilding.
“You also see me tracing my family line, in a way, looking to the way that certain behavioral patterns have been passed down, the way that we’re trained by our parents, and how they attempt to mold us. I find myself a participant in that right now, and I can look to my grandfather, my father, and myself, and understand how things have been passed along from man to man. I now find myself very conflicted when instructing my son, when trying to figure out what it means to be a good father. My father’s father was a kind of dictator. You can see him in the Paul character in the novel. My grandfather was somebody who was always in your business, always telling you what to do, trying to shape your behavior. My father took the very opposite approach with me. I don’t think he spoke to me until I was thirteen. We have a great relationship now, but growing up, but he was very hands off. He was very interested in me working constantly. So I would be working jobs to earn money, or I would be working for him on our plot of land, whether that meant we were under the hood of a car or we were out in the desert unearthing stones, or we were out in the woods, dragging a deer carcass along a logging road.
“And then I have my son. Sometimes as I am hanging out with him, I can just imagine what my father and grandfather would say to him when certain things come out of his mouth or he acts a certain way. I find myself questioning, what is the best way? How involved should you be in telling someone this is right or wrong? How protective should you be? I think we live in a very overprotective time, where every child is swaddled, cushioned, and belted to excess. It’s good to let them bloody a knee now and then, or go wild in the woods. I’m fighting those two instincts at once. Here I am a part of this Kids”R”Us culture, the parenting magazine culture, and at the same time I’m negotiating the ghosts of my past.”
You can catch the rest of this fascinating interview (part two has already been posted online) here: An Interview With Benjamin Percy: Part 1