The last time I saw my dad, we argued. I shouldn’t remember, because it wasn’t the first time, but I do remember, because that’s the last time I saw him. I remember sitting in the car besides him while he was being a jerk to my mother, and I remember thinking – not for the first time – and screaming – for the first time – THAT’S ENOUGH. I remember him, sitting on a chair in my mum’s garden a few hours later, asking me, no, begging me to talk to him. I wouldn’t.
It was July 2012, and he would die of cancer a few months later, in January. We spoke on the phone this Winter, but I never looked into his eyes again.
My dad, very much like Calla’s dad, did not talk about his illness. Not in the end anyway. We had a complicated relationship, but his phone number is still one of the few I know by heart. I’ll be the first to recognize his faults, but I don’t like people assuming things about him all the same. I’m at peace with who he was, and I know that most of his mess doesn’t mean he didn’t care, even though it’s hard for people to acknowledge that. People… People are so full of shit, you know? In my life I’ve met two kinds of person : those who think I shouldn’t talk about his mistakes that now he’s dead, and those who don’t understand why I even cared in the end.
I was 28 when he died, and I wasn’t close to understanding him nor the weave of threads tangled that bounded his life. Perhaps that’s why I could relate to Calla so much. When she learns that her father is dying, she decides to visit him for the first time after 24 years. She wants to get to know him, but that does not mean that she forgives him for having abandoned her. I can see why readers could despise her : she shows up in Alaska in high heels, still resentful, and sure, we all want to think that we would be a better person in her place : I’m just not sure I would, and I understand that about her. It’s… It’s just so easy to imagine how we’d react when we’ve never been in this situation, but as for me, I’m not about to judge her. So, what? She’s a little vain, ignorant, and immature? She lives with her parents and posts pictures of herself on Instagram? Who cares? She’s despairingly trying to cling to some semblance of normalcy and I, for one, isn’t in the business of mocking what is very much a survival tactic. Plus she growths a lot in the course of the story, and isn’t it what we seek, dynamic characters who evolve?
Jonah, the love interest, is a prejudiced asshole, but to be fair, Calla does act in a very ignorant way when she arrives in Alaska. He has plenty to learn too, and I very much enjoyed the hate-to-love dynamics those two had going on during 70% of the story. If I’m being honest, the only thing that didn’t sit well with me was the whole “you don’t have to put on make-up” thing : I thought we were done with telling women that they shouldn’t “paint their faces”? In what way is it his business? That bullshit is so stereotyped and ridiculous, it’s exhausting. In the end, I still don’t know if I like him or if he annoys me but ALRIGHT, the little shit grew on me. Moreover, I could feel their chemistry and honestly? I rooted for them. Not to mention that it has the cabin-in-the-woods trope and (sorry but) I’m a sucker for it?
So, yeah. Both main characters are somewhat unlikeable, but if that doesn’t bother you, you should give it a chance. Especially because :
1) the secondary characters are truly gold ;
2) can we acknowledge the fact that most people ARE unlikeable for one reason or another and that unlikeable ≠ unlovable???
All in all, The Simple Wild was more a story about what family means – and that’s not necessarily the same as blood ties – than anything else, and that’s why I’m more lenient with its flaws. It resonated with me in a very personal way, but I don’t expect other readers to feel the same. Perhaps you’ll hate it, I sure can understand why you would. Yet even though it wasn’t perfect and made me rage sometimes, I won’t forget it anytime soon, and because of this, it deserves a positive rating.
TW – cancer, death of a parent