cover image Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau

Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau

Ben Shattuck. Tin House, $22.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-953534-04-0

In this resplendent debut, Pushcart Prize winner Shattuck traipses from quiet elegy to compassionate celebration through a series of jaunts patterned after Henry David Thoreau’s rambles. Hoping to escape “a constellation of grief” over a breakup, Shattuck set out one May to walk the beaches of Cape Cod, retracing the footsteps of Thoreau. What started as a distraction turned into six separate treks, vividly brought to life here in Shattuck’s poetic retelling. On his first outing, a serendipitous meeting delivers him to the oysterman’s cottage where Thoreau slept 150 years earlier. When Shattuck’s later diagnosed with Lyme disease, he’s spurred to tackle two hikes: up Maine’s Katahdin and Massachusetts’s Wachusett mountains—where Thoreau walked after his brother’s death and, like Shattuck, found “consolation” in the stars, “displac[ing] bulging selfhood, under the shadow of such urgent beauty as the night sky.” After getting engaged, Shattuck returned to his roamings with a lighter heart, traveling to his family’s ancestral home in Sakonnet Harbor; the northernmost point of Thoreau’s Maine walk; and Cape Cod again, where he reconciled his grief as a necessary “period of fragility that brings your emotions closest to the surface.” Echoing Thoreau’s brilliant reflections with his own, Shattuck distills the healing power of nature into a narrative that’s a pure pleasure to wander through. Fans of Annie Dillard will find this mesmerizing. Agent: Claudia Ballard, WME. (Apr.)