The Simple Wild
K.A. Tucker’s The Simple Wild is a perfectly nice contemporary romance about a city girl who flies to her Alaskan birthplace to visit her estranged and dying daddy – and falls in love with the pilot who gets her there.
In the early nineties, Susan Fletcher is doing what she thinks is best for her infant daughter Calla. Leaving Wren, her husband, and the wilds of Alaska for the safety of her hometown of Toronto, she knows she can’t handle another brutal winter dealing with Wren’s long hours and her intense loneliness. She thinks Wren will leave and follow her to Toronto, but he doesn’t.
Years later, Calla’s just been fired from her office drone job as a risk analyst. Her boyfriend, Corey, is less than attentive in response to her problems, and soon she catches him cheating on her. She’s so afraid of the natural world that the local raccoon menace makes her shriek, fall and break her Louboutin heels. Then she gets a call from her father’s girlfriend, Agnes, informing her of Wren’s fatal lung cancer diagnosis and requesting a visit, and Calla’s life changes.
Wren and Calla’s relationship has disintegrated over time and they haven’t spoken for over fourteen years when Agnes calls; he made multiple promises to show up for important events in her life and never arrived, hardening her against him. Only the fact that her life is falling apart draws her to the wilds of Alaska. Maybe she can mill an article for her lifestyle website out of the situation.
Alaska is, of course, nothing like Calla expects it to be. Wild and untamed, it takes her by surprise – as does Jonah, the surly pilot who flies her out and promptly begins quarreling with her. As she battles to settle her grievances with Wren, the woolly-faced pilot next door begins to look awfully appealing. But when Wren’s cancer worsens and Calla is presented with a choice between staying in Alaska and flying back to Toronto, what will she pick?
The Simple Wild has some nice, poetic simplicity to its storytelling… but it’s also (unfortunately) rather unoriginal.
Calla’s not the most appealing heroine. Self-centered and whiny, she’s the kind of woman who brings thousand dollar outfits into the middle of the Alaskan bush. That’s not to say she isn’t sympathetic; she definitely can be in various ways, but she can also be a terrible stereotype. So is Jonah, complete with gruffness that masks a charitable heart and a sense of poetry. And then there’s Wren, the classic crusty father figure. Minor characters fair better: Calla’s friendship with her best friend, Diana, and her relationship with her stepfather Simon are both charming.
The plot, sadly, is stiflingly predictable. Rife with the typical ‘wilderness is better than city living’ stuff, you already know what’s going to happen three pages in; Jonah will de-citify Calla, Jonah has a Reason For His Hostility and Calla will fall in love with flying in spite of being afraid of it; she and her father will bond only to be confronted by his illness, and Calla and Jonah’s sparring means they truly love one another deep down… The predictability in general is a disappointment. And while loss of a parent is something we will all inevitably go through in time, the book’s fusion of the feather-light relationship between Calla and Jonah and the serious Wren and Calla conflict is uncomfortable, and at times incongruous.
I will say, however, that it’s really nice that the book’s ultimate message is that communication and compromise are worthwhile and important. Tucker has a style that’s breezy and fun, most of the time. It just deserves to be employed in a book much better than this one.
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