In the Country of the Blind tells the story of Press, a man who has lost a lot. He lost his sight to a degenerative disease, and his losses accumulated, his job, then his wife and children as she tossed him out, fearful of care taking. Fortunately, his Vermont neighbors are friendly and oriented toward care taking. He has two sets of neighbors whom he visits, who feed him, take him to church, and welcome him into their hearts.
Even better, on a walk in the woods, he meets Carol. She lives at a nearby commune with her children. The kids enjoy his company and he feels a bittersweet fondness; his pleasure in their company reminding him of his children whom he misses. A visit home helps him realize that his kids love him and that he can’t lose them that easily.
I enjoyed the conversations among the characters. They have that unfinished and random quality of real life, conversations that happen without advancing a plot point. I loved the characters, their authenticity and complexity. Press was the main character and his infatuated relationship with Carol made her the second most important character. Frankly, they were less interesting than Melba, and several of the other minor characters. With Press and Carol, it was hard to tell who they really felt about each other and how much of their relationship was convenience. Press seemed the kind of guy who wanted a relationship with someone, anyone, without regard to which woman.
I am ambivalent about In the Country of the Blind. The idea that a 47 year old man who loses his sight thinks that is it, considers assisted living seems strange in today’s world. Blind people are not incapacitated. How is that someone as well off as Press has not had therapists teach him how to cope. He’s knocking food all over himself, for pity’s sake. I have known several blind people and that is so not typical. From that fundamental flaw, everything feels wrong.
The writing is beautiful, engaging and flows with this headlong pace that carries the reader forward without a break. It’s compulsive, but in the end, it is difficult to understand why Hoagland spent so much good writing on such a little story. There’s not much meat here, just interesting people having conversations and puttering around. Is there a resolution, does Press change over the course of the story? I wanted something more.
In the Country of the Blind will be released November 1st. I was given an e-galley by the publisher through NetGalley.