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The Land

Review

The Land

It is difficult to believe that just a little over two decades ago people were concerned about “Y2K,” which was shorthand for January 1, 2000. They feared that, due to a programming shortfall, all computers would reset to January 1, 1900, at the stroke of midnight. This would result in everything from banking to transportation suddenly reverting to what we used to refer to as “the olden days,” or, as we would call it now, chaos. Thomas Maltman, who has written two critically acclaimed books, uses the months in the runup to Y2K as the setting for THE LAND, a dark and disturbing novel that is beautifully and fearfully told.

Lucien Swenson makes it clear almost from the beginning of the book that he has some distance from the events he describes but that on some level they remain painful for him. He gets the bare bones out rather quickly. Lucien, who is 20 years old as the primary story begins, is at loose ends. His main interest at the time --- so much so that college was an afterthought --- lies in creating and developing an elaborate computer game, to which he devoted his waking hours when he was not working as a bank teller in the winter months leading up to January 1, 2000. Oh, and he had another interest as well, which we will get to in a moment.

"THE LAND is a marvelous novel, and there is no good place to stop reading it.... It makes for a haunting work that runs its tendrils across the back of the brain long after the last paragraphs have been consumed."

That said, everything changed when Lucien was injured in a horrific automobile accident, which left him with an impaired gait and severe migraine headaches. As part of his recuperation, he becomes a caretaker for the Krolls, who plan to do the snowbird thing in Florida as they await what may or may not happen on January 1st. Lucien’s duties are fairly simple: take care of Kaiser, the Krolls’ geriatric dog, and generally keep an eye on things. This gives him plenty of opportunity to heal and develop his game.

However, Lucien is obsessed with locating Maura, a bank teller with whom he had a somewhat unlikely affair. On the night of his fateful accident, she disappeared with $5,000 of the bank’s money. Lucien, who had dreams of a life with Maura, wants to know what happened to her. To do so, he begins to visit the rural church pastored by her husband, Elijah Winters, which is rumored to be harboring a white supremacist congregation. Elijah seems to smooth over the more radical aspects of the philosophy to simple pride in white culture, but there are those in the church who seem determined to use the supposed chaos that is coming with the new year to violent ends.

Lucien insinuates himself into the church but is troubled by the aforementioned migraine headaches, apocalyptic dreams and visions, and the arrival at the house of an enigmatic young woman who presents herself as the Krolls’ estranged daughter but who might be someone else entirely. He is buffeted from all directions and is hindered by an inability to rely on his own perceptions just when he needs them the most. Since he is narrating the story after the fact, it appears that he makes it through the ordeal. But at what cost?

THE LAND is a marvelous novel, and there is no good place to stop reading it. One is never quite sure at all times if Lucien saw what he says he saw, because he is rarely certain himself. It makes for a haunting work that runs its tendrils across the back of the brain long after the last paragraphs have been consumed.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 16, 2020

The Land
by Thomas Maltman

  • Publication Date: October 13, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Press
  • ISBN-10: 1641292202
  • ISBN-13: 9781641292207