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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail - a review

Everyone that sets foot on the Appalachian Trail writes a book, blog, journal or essay. Forrester has not only traversed the trail itself but also written from self-exploration and although not a trail guide, he's put as much knowledge and lore into the storyline as a David Miller trail journal. This one adds darkness to the peacefulness of the long-distance hike.

Taz Chavis, recently released from jail with a yearning for open-air freedom and a chance to make a clean break from an alcohol and drug-addled past, starts his journey on Springer Mountain in Georgia, intent on the northbound journey culminating at Mt. Katahdin in Maine, 2170 miles away. We are treated to not just stories of intertwining journeys of his soon-to-be trail partners - Simone Decker , a scientist with a hidden past, and Richard nelson, intent on discovering his Native Indian heritage and avoiding working in the family business - but to those who help other hikers.

These side stories are as much a teat to the AT reader, or hiker, as the story Forrester presents us with, that of the possibility that perhaps the deaths on the AT are no accident. As the bodies of hikers pile up along steep and precipitous portions of the trail, it dawns on Chavis that there is a murderer in their midst, "... a hiker murdering hikers is a defilement, the worst of mankind..."

The fragile and temporary nature of the relationships these three pals from is tested repeatedly, culminating in a fraught, tense scene in the dying embers of the novel. Like real life, there is always life after the journey and Forrester guides us home to the same helplessness or loneliness that drives many out on the AT, the pervading melancholy of drab lives that persuades many to take that long walk in the first place. After all, it is, as Forrester reminds us, better than the alternative... death, because, "Death is never the answer."

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