Cannonball Read #35: Walking to Gatlinburg04/02/2010
Walking to Gatlinburg by Howard Frank Mosher was a reluctant disappointment for me. On page four, I thought I had a real gem:
“You couldn’t just stop reading, any more than you could help falling in love. Still, he had to acknowledge, at least to himself, that reading was the main problem, as true in his case as it was in Pilgrim’s. If he’d never encountered those travel books, he might never have come up with the idea for his own great odyssey after Pilgrim had gone missing at the place in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg.”
After reading that, I looked at my husband and said “ooh, I’ve got a good one;” but as the novel wound on, the characters became one-dimensional, and the Civil War was just a cardboard cutout of a setting.
Morgan Kinneson is a 17-year-old sharpshooter whose brother, Pilgrim, goes missing at Gettysburg after serving as a doctor in the Union Army. The Kinneson’s run one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad, and take people north to Canada. While escorting an elderly fugitive, Morgan takes time to track down a moose to feed his family, and his ward is murdered. This terrible moment makes Morgan decide to trek after his brother, and along the way he encounters the band of murderers at one point or another.
The reason for the murder is a mysterious carved stone which is really a map to the underground railroad stops.
“…an oval, grayish stone, about as large as his palm. It was attached through a small hole drilled through the top, to a leather necklace. Etched into the surface of one side were the words Jesse’s stone. Below the writing a jagged line of what appeared to be mountain peaks ran from north to south, interrupted at intervals by a dozen or so curious miniature drawings. A ruined fortress. A little ship perched high in a tree…”
I suppose that’s plausible, but the rest of the novel just didn’t do it for me. In theory it should have. Morgan encounters the killers at many points through the novel, and he also meets up with strong women and men who are part of the railroad. I got to about the last 1/3 and though I was still interested in what happened, I realized that it wasn’t as engrossing as I had thought. Normally I get really lost in what I read. This just felt like standing by the wayside as Morgan went walking past.