Rich Shapero,
Wild Animus
(Too Far, 2004)

The description that accompanied my review copy of Wild Animus made it seem a bit like a Castaneda novel. As a person with 15 years of DeadHead service, that seemed like something that might be up my alley. To sweeten the deal, much of the action in the novel takes place in the Alaskan wilderness, a location I've always been curious about and hope someday to visit.

Indeed, when you read the liner notes, you'll learn that author Rich Shapero has spent much time exploring Alaska. I also assume that the author has some experience with consumption of psychedelic drugs. I am not sure how much of the novel is intended to be autobiographical and how much is pure fiction. It may not really matter all that much.

Wild Animus has numerous flaws as a novel. Foremost, Shapero does not do an adequate job of developing the characters in the book.

The novel revolves around Sam Altman. He lives in Seattle and falls in love with Lindy. Bored with the revolutionary life of the late '60s, Sam is inspired by a picture of a ram on a magazine cover to seek enlightenment in the Alaskan wild. Let me note, Shapero would make an excellent travel writer. His descriptive faculty is very keen. He is very detailed in his account of Mount Wrangel and the Alaskan wild. He is obviously very familiar with the terrain.

But the book has a disjointed quality to it. Altman becomes Ransom, which is an alter-ego in the form of a mountain ram. He is pursued by a pack of wolves. I would assume that much of these passages are what is going on in Altman's mind while under the influence of LSD. The use of italics would seem to indicate that he is in this other state. Either that or this is the writing that Altman is doing while out in the wild using these powerful drugs.

The book is supposed to deal with the issue of how far he should go or if it is possible to go too far in pursuit of enlightenment. The lack of character development makes it hard to really be all that concerned either way. The characters were more interesting before they left Seattle to take on the wild. It is hard to really grasp the tragedy of this maddened pursuit.

My feeling is that Shapero has potential as a writer. He tackles some pretty large themes here, but this is a book he may very well write better at some later point in his life. Wild Animus will have some appeal for people interested in drug-related fiction or an interest in Leary-esque philosophy. It will offend some people because of the reliance on drugs. Personally, I think Shapero should be commended for tackling some heavy issues, but he doesn't pull it off completely. It's worth reading but only for a pretty limited audience.

- Rambles
written by George Schaefer
published 7 May 2005

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