A dark, fantastical, multi-generational tale about a family whose patriarch is consumed by the hunt for the mythical, elusive sasquatch he encountered in his youth
Eli Roebuck was nine years old when his mother walked off into the woods with "Mr. Krantz," a large, strange, hairy man who may or may not be a sasquatch. What Eli knows for certain is that his mother went willingly, leaving her only son behind. For the rest of his life, Eli is obsessed with the hunt for the bizarre creature his mother chose over him, and we watch it affect every relationship he has in his long life--with his father, with both of his wives, his children, grandchildren, and colleagues. We follow all of the Roebuck family members, witnessing through each of them the painful, isolating effects of Eli's maniacal hunt, and find that each Roebuck is battling a monster of his or her own, sometimes literally. The magical world Shields has created is one of unicorns and lake monsters, ghosts and reincarnations, tricksters and hexes. At times charming, as when young Eli meets the eccentric, extraordinary Mr. Krantz, and downright horrifying at others, The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac is boldly imaginative throughout, and proves to be a devastatingly real portrait of the demons that we as human beings all face.
Shields's collection of stories, Favorite Monster, playfully demonstrated the full psychological and dramatic potential of the supernatural tale. The same flashes of dark wit are on display in her first novel, which unfortunately doesn't sustain the haunting energy of its opening scenes set on the Idaho-Washington border. Agnes Roebuck introduces her young son, Eli, to Mr. Krantz, the gigantic, uncouth "hominid" who smells like a "musty bearskin rug singed with a lit match" and for whom she will soon leave her family. The lovers disappear into the woods, leaving only a set of footprints and causing Eli to develop a lifelong obsession with feet big and small. After becoming a successful podiatrist, Eli increasingly devotes more time to hunting Sasquatches (Mr. Krantz in particular) and less to his family, whose members have their own brushes with the supernatural lake monsters, tentacled shopkeepers, and unicorns. Shields generally deploys these fantastical elements without falling into full-fledged whimsy, but the magical flourishes distract from the central contest between Eli, a man of "nearly hairless pallor," and his hirsute rival. Moreover, as it lurches from eerie moments of psychological horror to satirical scenes like a nonagenarian attending a "Zoophilia Support Group," the novel's tone proves as hard to pin down as the elusive creature at its center.