In a debut novel from Green Writers Press by Jonathan Howland, the austere beauty and high exposure of mountain adventure provide the context and the measure for what it means to be alive for climbing partners Joe Holland and Pete HunterÂ â€“ until one of them isnâ€™t.Â
When the book opens, itâ€™s the mid-80s.Â Joe Holland, the novelâ€™s narrator, is a climber and a seeker, but mostly heâ€™s Pete Hunterâ€™s shadow. The two meet in college and spend the next ten years living at the base of any rock that appears scalable, most of them near Yosemite and Californiaâ€™s High Sierra.
The joys and strains of their friendship comprise the novelâ€™s first half. In the second, the bare bonesâ€“obsession, grief, love, and repairâ€”come into stark relief when Peteâ€™s grown son Will calls Joe back into climbing, into the past, and into breathless vitality.Â
Native AirÂ is itself a climb, tracing physical acts in a vertical domain as well as the life events stitched between adventures that yoke them. When Will summons Joe back to the mountains, itâ€™s Joeâ€™s chance to recover something true, to mourn his friend, and to fall in love with wonders nearer to heaven than any steeple. The past and present press upon each other like a folded clock.
Readers of this book are doers as well as fans of those who entertain risk and nurse obsession. They get lost and found in Muir essays and Knausgaard. They admire Annie Proulx, Norman Maclean, and Russell Banks. According to climber-author Dan Duane, â€śNative Air belongs on the bookshelf of anyone whose heart registers the beauty and danger of exposure.â€ť
â€śYou know there are people whose obsession is big-wall climbing. You may have seen the documentaries, read the articles, perhaps even read a memoir. But youâ€™ve never read anything that takes you so deep inside the anchoritic psyche of helpless, abject cliff worship. The narrator is ambivalent, and supremely observant, his partner the absolutist. See Ishmael and Ahab, Sal Paradiso and Dean Moriarty. This is literary fiction of a high order, with a physical immediacy and specificity that never let up, and then a riveting next-generation denouement. The final top-out will destroy you. Climb on.â€ť
â€”William Finnegan, The New Yorker; author of Barbarian Days
“As a lifelong climber, climbing writer and student of mountaineering literature, I want the world to know: Jonathan Howlandâ€™s Native Air is the novel that we American climbers and readers of serious fiction have been waiting for. This book is the first true literary deep dive into the austere beauty, deep friendships and high emotional cost of the lives weâ€™ve all led in Americaâ€™s great empty spaces, tilting at mysterious windmills, chasing truths and dreams we can never quite name. Howland is the real dealâ€”as a climber, a writer, and a deep thinker about the human condition. Native Air belongs on the bookshelf of not just every climber but anyone whose heart registers the beauty and danger of exposure.â€ť
â€”Daniel Duane, author of Lighting Out, A Golden Year in Yosemite and the West, and A Mouth Like Yours
About the Author
Jonathan Howland lives in San Francisco. After 36 yearsâ€™ teaching and working in independent schools, he now alternates between climbing trips in western states and writing, gardening, and playing with two grandchildren at home. Also: cooking, yoga-ing, and coyote-sighting in the Presidio of San Francisco, which he frequents with Courtney and their dog Ike. His favorite writers include Melville and Morrison and Marlon James, Faulkner and Woolf and Chekhov, though if limited to just one, Emily Dickinson.
Author photo by Erin Neff.Â
Author climbing photos by Chris McElheny.
About the Cover Artist & Designer
Hughen/Starkweather is the collaboration of San Francisco artists Jennifer Starkweather and Amanda Hughen. Their site-specific, research-based artworks reinterpret complex narratives about a place using new and unexpected forms. Recent work involves investigating the past, present, and possible futures of places where water meets land through the lens of climate change.
Exhibitions include the Asian Art Museum, the Public Policy Institute of California, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the University of San Francisco. Residencies include the DeYoung Museum, Headlands, Recology, Skowhegan, Ucross, and Yaddo. Recent large-scale art commissions have included SFMOMA for Chase Center and the San Francisco Central Subway Station at Union Square. Starkweather received an MFA from Tyler School of Art; Hughen received an MFA from the University of California, Berkeley.Â This is their first book cover.
380 pages; 6 x 9 / Hardcover
$24.95 print / $9.99 e-book
ISBN: 978-1-950584-90-1Â (print)
ISBN: 978-1-950584-89-5 (e-book)
Publication Date: March 22, 2022
Distributor: IPG / Chicago
Rights sold: All rights available.
Rights contact: Dede Cummings
Individuals can pre-order directly from Bookshop.org, Indiebound.org,Â online,Â or contact your local, independent bookstore.
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