The Vaster Wilds
Lauren Groff's fifth novel, the riveting The Vaster Wilds, combines visceral detail and magisterial sweep as it chronicles a teenage servant's struggle to survive winter alone in 1610 after fleeing the famine- and disease-ridden Jamestown colony in Virginia.
As in Groff's Matrix, the tale has a timeless quality. "The girl" sailed from England, accompanying her mistress and the woman's second husband and intellectually disabled daughter. Flashbacks to traumatic events seep into her mind as she copes with the harsh reality of life in the wilderness. She finds shelter, builds fires, and subsists on raw fish, duck eggs, and berries. Groff also masterfully plots histories of a Jesuit priest turned hermit who deems the girl a she-devil, and a soldier who pursues her, ready to take out his sadism on a "murderess." The mystery of the incident to which he's referring remains until near the novel's end, adding suspense to what becomes a classic study of solitude.