Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Daily Coyote by Shreve Stockton

From The Week of April 03, 2011

By necessity, every memoir has woven into its fabric threads of narcissism. While some readers may revel in such self-examination, the rest of us endure these moments of vanity to get to the earnest self-discovery that makes non-fiction of this sort worthwhile. Ms. Stockton certainly has her conceited moments, but her story of finding meaning and love in the wilderness of Wyoming remains a warm and engaging piece.

Plagued by depressive episodes, only vaguely refered to here, Ms. Stockton found herself a drifting twentysomething, locked into an unsatisfying urban existence. As a balm to her flagging spirits, she fixes upon the idea of a cross-country ride from San Francisco to New York, journalling her journey as she goes. She claims to have made it only as far as vast Wyoming before the breathtaking scenery permanently aborted her odyssey. Striking up a friendship with Mike, a pest-controller specializing in shooting troublesome coyotes from an airplane, Ms. Stockton engages a cabin just outside of town and does her best to adjust to life in a place without modern, urban conveniences.

Here, wrestling hay, building good fences and riding horses are skills in far greater demand and supply than shopping at the mall, or navigating the subway. Not long after her arrival, Mike inexplicably besets Ms. Stockton with coyote pup which, much to her own surprise, she not only keeps but raises, domesticating him, to the extent possible. Charlie, the coyote, quickly becomes the focus of her existence: his beauty, his moodswings, his lethal quickness. Fascinated by all, she begins to take pictures of him, pictures which form the core of a popular blog which inspired her to write down her story of finding peace in a slower, simpler life.

The Daily Coyote is an uneven experience. Ms. Stockton has a talent for describing visuals. Her literary depictions of Wyoming's unbounded scenery entice the reader to travel there about as much as her portrayals of the climate's Hellish summers and bone-chilling winters encourage him to stay away. These vivid sketchings are equalled only by those she lavishes on Charlie, the sometimes loving, sometimes- ferocious, coyote who teaches her how to find her own equilibrium. But while her gift for setting the scene is considerable, this is an almost memoir. The story is far too basic. Yes, girl meets boy, girl falls for boy, girl waits for boy to figure himself out has been the basis of numerous stories of self-discovery, but they usually have some drama to them, some core conflict that animates a collection of journal entries into a piece of meaningful literature. Not so here, where all Ms. Stockton can summon is an unconvincing will they or won't they sub plot to support her main journeys with Charlie narrative which is interesting but hardly the stuff of legend. What's more, her eagerness to convince her readers of her metaphysical connection with Charlie stretched my credulity to its limits. Nonetheless, I know much more about coyotes now than I did before cracking the cover.

This is an interesting and sweet memoir, but while its descriptions of Wyoming and life there blow the mind, this feels too much like reading someone's Facebook page. Hardly the author's fault; I'm glad she didn't make up something to put energy into her story, but it is what it is. (3/5 Stars)

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