cover image The Natural History of Uncas Metcalfe

The Natural History of Uncas Metcalfe

Betsey Osborne, . . St. Martin's, $22.95 (232pp) ISBN 978-0-312-34277-7

The hero of Osborne's incisive debut novel is a glacier of a man. Rooted in his small upstate New York hometown of Sparta, like the five generations of Metcalfes before him, 65-year-old botany professor Uncas is a man for whom change is not an option. Having achieved a "resilient stasis," Uncas is as unwilling to accept the "physical upheaval of the heart of Sparta" as he is the "big-city prices for glorified bread" at the new bagel shop; so when Margaret, Uncas's wife of 40 years, suffers a leg injury that keeps her bedridden, Uncas loses the only buffer between his outmoded worldview and reality. The impact of his chronic stoicism on his loved ones reveals itself to Uncas when the younger of his two daughters, Fauna Fletcher, returns to Sparta with her husband, Doug, and their three children. An unlikely friendship with a rebellious teenage girl and the threat of a disturbed former student also serve to bring Uncas closer to understanding his family and world. Though Uncas's dedication to tradition can seem extreme, Osborne establishes a genuine sense of history and caring in Uncas's familial relationships with just a few well-chosen words. (May)