Troll Valley by Lars Walker

It is hard to put your finger on what kind of book Troll Valley really is … A historical novel with a dash of the fantastic. A fascinating look into another culture transplanted to America and changing in ways large and small from generation to generation. A love story where the pure force of love overcomes psychological, physical and even supernatural forces. An allegory about the clash of modernity and faith …

I am still not sure – as is so often the case with these type of questions, the answer is really all of the above. But this e-book only work by novelist Lars Walker is a captivating read and one that pulls you into its characters and settings – making you feel like you are reading about a real place and real people; that you are reading history in a sense not literature or not just literature.

More thoughts below …

Here is a blurb from the author/publisher:

Chris Anderson has everything. He’s the son of the richest family in town. He lives in a beautiful, loving home. He even has a fairy godmother.

Chris Anderson also has nothing. He was born with a deformed arm, and when he gets angry he sees visions that terrify him.

At the turn of the Twentieth Century, in a nation wrestling with faith and science, tradition and change, Chris will be forced to confront his own nature, and learn the meanings of freedom, love, and the grace of God.

The set up seems to hint at historical fiction: you have the introduction in modern times with flashbacks for the history. The basic plot follows Chris as he grows up; moving from farm to town and dealing with his complex Norwegian family and community.  The drama comes from conflict within the family – his old school grandfather and his progressive teetotaler mother for example – and from his deformed arm which looms large in his own mind and life.

But always on the edge of the story is the “underworld” – the world of fairies and magic.  He has his own real live fairy godmother in fact, who reminds him  that the magic side is often dark and dangerous and who desperately wants to be baptized.  Chris himself has a strong connection to this world.  When he is angry or feels threatened he sees little men with red hats who seem capable of great violence.  He has dreams and visions.

All this complexity leads to dysfunction and struggle – despite the wealth and success of the Andersons.  One by one the men are driven away. His Norwegian immigrant grandfather is driven out by his domineering mother and her progressive causes.  His brother rebels and heads west to escape.  And soon his father joins the path west.

Chris tries to stay rooted.  He takes a position in the family firm and seems committed to what normalcy he can find. But his deformed arm and his love for Sophie – an adopted girl who is in some ways like a sister but who he loves with desperation – prevent him from peace or stability.  He can’t accept himself as he is and thus can’t accept love from Sophie and this brews deep and ugly bitterness inside him.  When this emotion surfaces it drives him out west to find his father and brother.

He connects with them but out of fear of ending up lonely and alone heads back to his hometown to make a life for himself.  His awkward and often ugly attempts to do this make up the rising climax of the book and highlights the truly changing nature of the community he returns to.

What struck me about the style and content of Troll Valley is how, at bottom, what makes it worthwhile is the simple storytelling.  Walker creates such believable and entertaining characters that the reader is sucked in and soon begins to care about these complex characters.  This is what storytelling is all about: the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes; to experience and explore new things without having to go anywhere. Walker gives us this chance to visit Minnesota around the turn of the century and see what a Norwegian immigrant community might look like and how its inhabitants might live and interact.

But there is also an element that is almost post-modern or a unique mix of pre and post-modern – unmodern if you will.  With a magical realism influenced by classical Christianity and Nordic myth; with genres blended and intertwined and big ideas wrestled with and unpacked.

In some ways this makes it messy. The plot isn’t particularly tight and it isn’t clear what exactly the device of the modern-day relative drug-addict and his Native American helper brings to the story.  But it works because it is full of interesting characters, settings and language – because it touches on powerful emotions that grow out of conflicts we still wrestle with today.  It touches on faith and family – on community and relationships.  It feels like history, literature, theology and psychology all rolled up in a story.

Who knows what you call it.  But it is engaging, entertaining, often thought-provoking and for $3 a real steal.  If you have a Kindle or a Nook I encourage you to download Troll Valley and experience this unique journey.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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