Wild Life



  • Wild life : a novel / Molly Gloss.


Publication Info

  • Boston : Mariner Book, 2001.


  • 0618131574 (pbk.); $16.95


  • 270 p. :


  • Paperback
  • eBook
  • Hardcover
  • Hardcover Large Print


  • Western/literary
  • Women pioneers
  • Historical fiction/fantasy


5Q; 3P

Reader’s Annotation

Free-thinking Charlotte Bridger Drummond gets lost in the wilderness and finds her own wildness.


In 1905, the American Northwest is still a deep wilderness of timberland and lava fields, albeit suffering the advances of man in mining and lumbering. Charlotte Bridger Drummond, a free-thinking woman, author of adventure novels, and mother of five boys, espouses feminist ideals and flaunts her freedoms as an independent western woman. When her housekeeper’s only granddaughter disappears from a logging camp into the forest, Charlotte strikes out to experience the type of adventure her heroines might have. During the search, Charlotte, stricken by a terrible event, becomes detached from her group. Thanks to having her journal on her person when lost, Charlotte keeps a log of her experiences, which include becoming attached to a band of mysterious giant mountain creatures. Was it real, or a hallucination brought on by starvation, fear, and solitude?


Although this is a novel of the West in what were still considered pioneer days, it is not a Western in the sense of cowboys, horses, and gunslingers. Instead, the major theme of this book is the land itself, and what happens to it when white settlers become entrenched there. Environmentalism and feminism are strong and equal themes in this work.

The novel is well-written, with detailed, lyrical prose. The narration of the main plot is interspersed with bits of other writing, presumably the protagonist’s own writings as well as quotes from other authors. These can be a bit distracting, but often relate in some way to the main narrative; for example, offering bits of background information about other characters.

This is a slow-paced but compelling story. Gloss gives the reader much to think about, and time to ponder it. It is a character-driven story, and the reader watches the main character evolve over time. It is a difficult book to categorize, but is well worth the reading.


The author’s website

Part 1 and Part 2 of an interview with Indie Bound. Part 2 touches on whether Gloss considers herself a Western writer.



New York Times

Publishers Weekly

Appeal Factors

This book will appeal to readers who like character-driven stories and rich descriptions of place. It will also appeal to those who appreciate themes of environmentalism and feminism or of man’s relationship to nature.


The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey. Both novels are set in the Pacific Northwest with elements of fantasy.

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. These books place their characters in extreme and isolated situations and examine the response of the characters.


James Tiptree Jr. Award

Booktalk Ideas

A booktalk might center on the narrator’s first encounter with the “Bigfoot” type creatures. The booktalk should utilize the author’s rich descriptive language.

Discussion Questions

Charlotte pushes boundaries of propriety for women in her era–she writes books, rides a bicycle, and sometimes wears pants. Why do you think she mostly “gets away with it”?  Do you think real western women like Charlotte played a role in the advancement of feminism?

In her writing, Charlotte muses on the nature of motherhood and the demands of it versus the demands of a calling. What was your opinion of her as a mother? Would the opinions of her contemporaries have been different? How do women deal with this struggle today?

What did you think of the organization of this book as a journal and the non-narrative pieces of writing interspersed? Did this make it harder to follow?

What was your opinion of Charlotte’s encounter with the mountain creatures? Real, hallucinated, or author’s license? Why?

What environmental views does the author express through Charlotte?

Why I chose this book

Molly Gloss was recommended by Fiction_L members as a western writer. My library did not have the recommended title, so I decided to try this one.

Memory Hooks

Lost in the wilderness, logging, women authors, Sasquatch or Bigfoot



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