The Revenant by Michael Punke


[rev-uh-nuhnt] ˈrɛvənənt/
1. a person who returns.
2. a person who returns as a spirit after death; ghost.

In Revenant, Hugh Glass is attacked by a grizzly bear, then robbed and left to die by his fellow frontiersmen. He’s beaten, broken, and emaciated. He can’t walk and he can barely eat. Even so, he vows revenge on the men who deserted him. How great does this book sound?

Early on, Glass is mauled by the bear. Want to know how bad? Here’s a description of his scalp post-bear attack:

The skin was so loose that it was almost like replacing a fallen hat on a bald man. Harris pulled the scalp across Glass’s skull, pressing the loose skin against his forehead and tucking it behind his ear. (p. 27)

After that, in true Western spirit, things go from bad to worse for Glass. If being left for dead and robbed of anything that would help him survive wasn’t enough, he also has a hallucination about being bit by a rattlesnake, gets sprayed by a skunk, and has to fight wolves. All this and he still hasn’t regained the ability to walk (OK, so fighting the wolves was a voluntary decision, but that’s just goes to show it’s no coincidence that Hugh Glass rhymes with bad ass).

But regain the ability to walk he will and it is then that the proverbial shit gets real.

Picture credit: Hunting in Yosemite, 1890 by Thomas Hill; frontiersman by Jonathan Blair.

Punke does the reader a great service in this book – he paces it perfectly and he focuses on the character that needs focus at each particular point in the story. For example, Glass is attacked and abandoned very early in the story, but instead of following the two men that abandoned him, or even updating the reader on them, the story stays with Glass. This is just what it should do. The attack, abandonment, and recovery are so intense, that I couldn’t care less about what was going on with the other characters. Fortunately, the focus of the story didn’t let me down.

If you like Western movies, you’ll really enjoy The Revenant. If the story gets too wrapped up in the physical nature of Glass’s quest, his confrontation with the weaker of his abandoners offers a satisfying psychological aspect of Glass’s desire for revenge (a brief foreshadowing of this psychological aspect is what piqued my desire for it). As a bonus, the book leaves sixty pages to catch the more evil of the two men that robbed Glass and left him for dead.

As a second bonus, The Revenant is based on a true story. Nails.

Up Next: Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States vs. Allen and Schweikhart’s A Patriot’s History of the United States. I’m going to look at these books one chapter at a time and compare the differences in their subject matter, presentation, writing, and the overall strength of their arguments (since both make a claim to telling it the right way, so to speak). You can expect an introduction next week and I’ll probably add a page at the top to organize each post.