Storm King Wildlands Reserve: Running is Life in Motion
By Ben Kruser
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
As I flew to Florida recently, my travelling companions were Dinah and Selah, Bill and Norm, Johnny Pancakes and Blackie, Mrs. Murphy, Patsy and Dieter, Chumpsy, Enchante and Wawaneehi.
They are among many wacky characters in Storm King Wildlands Reserve: Running is Life in Motion by Ottawa author Ben Kruser.
Dinah, a Jewish single mother, and her blue-haired teenage daughter, Selah, start new lives after moving to their Catskill cottage when Dinah loses her job.
It’s a fat novel of 600-plus pages, and its many themes include lost and found dreams, the value of nature and the power of running. There’s a teen-novel-like story within the larger story as Selah adjusts to her new school.
Johnny Pancakes arrives in Dinah’s life after she gets an email from her old rabbi that a close friend of his has moved to the area, and asking her to host him for an evening.
Earlier, it was mentioned that “Dinah was not a religious person,” so it seems a bit odd that she would be on close terms with her old rabbi, but it’s a device that moves the plot along.
There is a lot of philosophical discussion with Johnny Pancakes over dinner, on natural law, law of the jungle, covenantal law. There are long preachy paragraphs by Dinah telling Selah she is “like a diamond in a slag heap” and “the people who really count know that you and I are good people. We just have to stay true to our values.” Values is a recurring theme in the novel.
There are other Jewish references, such as when Selah says, “To be honest, Mrs. Murphy, I think the online Torah study I read gives me enough to figure out how to lead a decent life.”
Another is the mention that “to ward off the evil eye, you have to use a red string that has been wrapped around the tomb of Rebecca seven times. There’s a Kabbalistic rabbi in Israel that risks his life to wrap the string around the tomb so people who need it can have it.”
Johnny has a red string he braids around Selah’s wrist, whispering a prayer in Hebrew.
There’s a lot of extended trivia about birds, car engines, science projects, rattlesnakes, running – the author tells us a bit about everything in his past experience as an outdoor educator and endurance runner.
His knowledgeable descriptions, such as nature walk camper Thomas’ attempt to catch a frog, are engaging.
There are plot turns about the running of the wildlands reserve, marathon running, student drug dealers, a fake shamaness and Catskill gnomes.
“You never cease to amaze me Johnny Pancakes. So if I can ask, what is it you want to perfect yourself to become?” Dinah asks toward the end of the novel.
“What I want is to become a mensch. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll get there,” he replies.
She tells him she thinks he’s “pretty darn close.”
“I hope so, but then again, nobody’s perfect,” he smiles.
Storm King Wildlands Reserve is not perfect either. Among the imperfections are too many distracting typos such as mistaking “your” for “you’re” and “there” for “they’re.” There are also too many synonyms for said – remarked, queried, retorted, exclaimed, etc. – and the dialogue, descriptions and trivia are too long, with too much trivia.
While the book may have benefited from a good editor with a firm hand, it does include many interesting and entertaining bits of information, and has a great date square recipe at the end from the author as a “Thank you for reading my novel.”