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Acclaimed short story writer, Sharma Shields, centers her first novel around Eli Roebuck, whose mother leaves her nine-year-old son and husband to go live with the sasquatch of the title, Mr. Krantz, in 1943. She brings her new boyfriend (?) to meet Eli just before she deserts him:
Eli tried not to stare. He did not see a man at all. What he saw was an enormous ape crushed into a filthy pin-striped suit. He remembered a book from school about exotic beasts, the giant apes who lived in the savage countries of the world, and the guest resembled those creatures: deep hooded brow, small blank eyes, thin-lipped mouth like a long pink gash. And the hair! The guest was so hairy that Eli was unsure of the color of his skin: Beneath the thick brown fur, his flesh—tough and charred, like strips of dried deer meat—appeared red in some places, purple in others. The guest even smelled of hair, badly, like a musty bearskin rug singed with a lit match.

Eli was horrified and delighted.

Remembering his manners, he stepped to the side and said politely, “Please, sir, come in.”

The guest’s small, round eyes raked over Eli. He cleared his throat and lumbered into the room, swinging his powerful arms. Well, Eli thought, he walks like a man, even if he doesn’t exactly look like one. But then Eli noticed the guest’s wide, shoeless feet, two hairy sleds that moved noiselessly over the wooden floorboards as though through a soft snow.

“Do you want some tea?” his mother asked. “It’s scalding hot, just the way you like it.”

The guest spoke. The noise startled Eli, a short sentence of senseless bleats and hoots. Agnes responded as if she understood. She handed over the teacup, and the guest handled it clumsily before dropping it, with a roar of annoyance, onto the floor. Eli hurried to clean up the mess himself. He didn’t even wince when a piece of china stuck him in the index finger. His mom offered her guest the teapot instead, and he drank greedily from its spout. Eli watched in sick fascination.
One gets the sick fascination, but not the possibility of a love match. So Agnes (Mrs. Roebuck) seems as monstrous as the yeti when she abandons her fundamentally decent spouse and innocent child. Much as I wish it were the case, being big and hairy is not enough, in and of itself, to warrant love.

Of course, Agnes herself does not seem like much of a loss, particularly when the dog that the men get presents itself as an entirely adequate, if not superior, replacement for her. Unfortunately, Eli's father finds himself so disturbingly attracted to the dog that he takes it out and buries it alive. And, lest the reader think the sasquatch will be the biggest imaginative leap in the book, when he regrets the decision and goes out to dig the dog up, it's disappeared into an abyss.

Eli spends the next 60 years pursuing the sasquatch and his mother, the obsession damaging his marriages and children and their children and so on, as each character acts out selfishly in much the same way as Agnes. Along the way magical creatures, mysterious objects and creep people pop up to interact with the family.

The book leaps from character to character and skips forward in time. The result is a series of set-pieces, some of them very good, all of them interesting, that reflect the author's background in short stories. It hangs together pretty well as a novel, but she does sacrifice character development in the process. And the extent to which Mr. Krantz is kept at the periphery of the overall tale does call into question whether even Ms Shields finds him "fascinating" enough for various women to run off with.

In the end, it is only after his death that Eli even partially realizes the damage that he has left in his own wake and tries to make good on some of it. That makes it hard to have too much sympathy for him. And it's equally hard to muster much for the other characters, mainly women, who embrace victim status all too eagerly. You want to give them a good shake and tell them to get on with life.

It's a fine debt novel, but given the author's creativity and ambition, it would be surprising if she doesn't subsequently write a terrific one.


Grade: (B)


See also:

Women Authors
Sharma Shields Links:

    -BIO: Sharma Shields (Poets & Writers)
    -BOOK SITE: The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac (Macmillan)
    -BOOK SITE: Favorite Monster by Sharma Shields (Autumn House)
    -ESSAY: Parenting on the Dark Side (Sharma Shields, 1/08/15, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: My First Book and (another) Baby (Sharma Shields, 12/29/14, The Quivering Pen)
    -ESSAY: Fleeing Idiot Ghosts and Tiptoeing Back (Sharma Shields, 4/04/12, NW Book Lovers)
    -SHORT STORY: The Bottomless Pit (Sharma Shields, Catapult)
    -SHORT STORY: Morsels (Sharma Shields, Memorious)
    -SHORT STORY: The Enchanted Face (Sharma Shields, April 8, 2013, Hibbards' Corner Newsletter)
    -SHORT STORY: The McGugle Account (Sharma Shields, Winter 09/10, Iowa Review)
    -PROFILE: Sharma Shields (The Spokesman-Review - Apr 11, 1996)
    -INTERVIEW: Bigfoot, Myths and Bedtime Stories (Samuel Dunnington, 10.10.14, Spark)
    -INTERVIEW: Sharma Shields on Writing About Monsters, Both Literal and Figurative (Jefferson Robbins, 09.10.13, Spark)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Author Sharma Shields On Sasquatch, Monsters, And Fear (Jeannie Yandel, Feb 2, 2015, KUOW)
    -INTERVIEW: An Interview with Sharma Shields and Caroline Zancan (Celia Johnson, February 13, 2015, Slice)
    -PROFILE: Monsters & Demons: The dark, yet oddly lovely world of local author Sharma Shields (Mike Bookey, 1/21/15, The Inlander)
    -INTERVIEW: Book Notes - Sharma Shields "The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac" (Large-hearted Boy, 1/27/15)
    -PODCAST: Spokane author Sharma Shields talks about the stories in her collection, 'Favorite Monster' (winner of an Autumn House Fiction Prize), and reads two short passages. (The Write Question, 5/30/13, MPTR)
    -INTERVIEW: Hunting For Sasquatch: a conversation with Sharma Shields (Cara Strickland, January 22, 2015, Spokane County Library District)
    -PODCAST: Sharma Shields, and Roundball Roundtable: Sherman and Jess read from other authors' work, and welcome Sharma Shields to read from her upcoming novel, The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac. (A Tiny Sense Of Accomplishment, Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter)
    -INTERVIEW: Spokane Author's New Novel Dives into the World of Sasquatch: A Northwest writer brings Sasquatch out of the woods (Brangien Davis, January 2015, Seattle)
    -INTERVIEW: Writer, with Kids: Sharma Sheilds (Carie Luna, August 15, 2014)
    -REVIEW: of The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac by Sharma Shields (Robert J. Wiersema, Vancouver Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac (Shawn Vestal, Omnivoracious : The Amazon Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac ( Carolyn Lamberson, The Spokesman-Review )
    -REVIEW: of Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac (Kirkus Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac (MICHAEL UPCHURCH, The Oregonian)
    -REVIEW: of Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac (Barbara Lloyd McMichael, The Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW: of Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac (Suzannah Showler, National Post)
    -REVIEW: of Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac (Paul Constant, The Stranger)
    -REVIEW: of Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac (Justin Hickey, Open Letters Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac (Gracie Ryan, Montana Kaimin)
    -REVIEW: of Favorite Monster by Sharma Shields (Chris Dombrowski, Missoula Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Favorite Monster (Josh Gross, Boise Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Favorite Monster (Brian Triplett Spokane Books Examiner)
    -REVIEW: of Favorite Monster (Jamais Jochim, Portland Book Review)

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