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Reviews of Gifted

Gifted by John Daniel The Oregonian Best Books of 2017

Emotionally raw and evocative, Gifted is a rare book that manages to intertwine family drama, internal turmoil, and landscapes of the world around it all. Set in Oregon's Coast Range, the book is the first novel by poet and essayist John Daniel, whose lush writing has a way of haunting you long after the first page.

The New York Times Book Review

The 30-something narrator Henry Fielder reflects on his conflicted 15-year-old self in this alluring debut novel, primarily set in the hippie- and blue-collar-populated Oregon Coast Range during the timber wars of the mid-1990s. Following the death of his book-loving mother, Henry is left in the care of his hard-drinking, physically abusive father, who also struggles with the loss while continuing to punch a clock at the local timber mill. Tensions escalate between the strict father and the defiant son, and after a shocking attack Henry sets out on a backcountry trek, desperate to reconnect with the serenity that left him upon his mother’s passing.

Daniel explores an ecology of natives and invasives — plant and animal — while rendering clear-cuts and second-growth forests with the same keen eye for beauty as he does towering old growths. “Each tree showed its history, written in dead stubs and snapped-off green limbs among the living limbs still whole....” [A] remarkable story.

Publishers Weekly

Henry Fielder is having trouble telling his story, until, after years repressing many of his childhood memories, a chance encounter with a former lover inspires him. From rural Oregon logging country, Henry grew up with a strong bond to the natural world. After his mother fell ill and passed away in a nursing home, Henry’s father became increasingly isolationist and erratic, occasionally physically abusing Henry. In order to deal with his difficult life at home, Henry turned toward the natural beauty of Oregon and eventually met Carter Stephens and his wife, urban transplants who introduced him to conservation and environmental activism. To cope with his abusive father, Henry started drinking and smoking pot at age 15; one night, after catching his son inebriated, Henry’s father took the abuse to a new horrific level. Daniel captures Henry’s feeling of isolation and loneliness with eloquent prose that draws readers into the mossy old-growth forests of the Northwest. His clean descriptions and comforting digressions about the landscape mirror Henry’s own attempts to find solace in an unjust, confusing world. Daniel’s impressive novel quietly builds, ending in a place where Henry can see the way past his experiences into a much more beautiful, logical future.

Kirkus Reviews

Lyrical evocations of nature clash with shocking revelations of human nature in this coming-of-age story set in and around the deep woods of western Oregon in the 1990s…. An insightful stroll through the wilderness of adolescence and the Oregon woods.