The Land Across
by Gene Wolfe
Tor, $25.99, 287pp
Publication Date: November 26, 2013
Any time you pick up a Gene Wolfe novel, you are going down the rabbit hole, taking the pill that wakes you up, stepping through a portal into a hyper-reality where all the customs are subtly different, and you will have to figure things out. Old ways of thinking simply will not get you through to the end, and before the end you will probably have to revise your entire mental construct at least twice.
In The Land Across, the protagonist, a travel-writer named Grafton, deliberately sets out to cross a border into a country that is difficult to enter, and even harder to leave. He knows success will prove dangerous; even so, he is shocked by the brutality of his translation from observer to pawn in this country where he is stripped of all his usual protections and immunities. With little more than mother wit and a will to survive, Grafton negotiates for his continued existence variously in interrogation rooms, under house arrest, in prison and captivity and in a haunted house, bribing some, serving others, dealing in favors, obligations, information and misinformation. More often than not, the prime mover in any situation is fear. Grafton’s advantage is that he himself is almost never afraid; it takes some seriously supernatural mojo to get his hair to raise.
An undercurrent of political commentary runs throughout, and only the most purblind, complacent chauvinist would think, “Oh, that could never happen here” - wherever one’s here happens to be. The hard truth is that virtually everything that happens to Grafton could happen anywhere, in any modern country.
This is a tough but gratifying book, one that reverberates in your mind long after you close it. ~~ Chris Paige