Victoria Vinton The Jungle Law

ISBN 13: 9781596921993

The Jungle Law

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9781596921993: The Jungle Law
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In the summer of 1892, 26-year-old Rudyard Kipling arrives in Vermont with little money, a pregnant wife, and the germ of a story about a feral child raised by a pack of wolves. Fleeing the literary high life in London, he hopes to build a sanctuary that will offer him refuge from the scrutiny incurred by his burgeoning fame and the wounds of his own troubled past. Kipling soon settles into his new home and sets to work on The Jungle Book, eventually introducing his young neighbor, Joe, to the likes of Mowgli, Shere Khan, and Baloo. As Kipling’s stories take root in Joe’s mind, the child is able to free himself from the confines of his dismal life, newly enlivened by the powerful and unsettling influence of the imagination.

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Review:

The need to create facsimile lives for our literary heroes is waxing. It isn't enough for readers to enjoy the work of authors they love in the characters they have created; we want to know more about both the author and the characters. If we can't know the truth, then fabricate a story for us. Michael Cunningham has done it with Virginia Woolf and Walt Whitman, Colm Tóibín with Henry James, and many versions of Sherlock Holmes's putative life-in-retirement have been making the rounds. One of the best is The Jungle Law, Victoria Vinton's tale of Rudyard Kipling, himself one of the best storytellers of all time. In 1892, 26-years-of-age and nearly broke, but expecting royalties from his successful books, Ruddy and his wife Caroline leave London for rural Vermont. There they will build a home, their firstborn will arrive, and Kipling will seek out the quiet he needs to invite his "Daemon" to call. This much is fact.

Down the road from the Kipling home lives the Connolly family: Jack, Addie, and Joe, their 11-year-old son. The gray sameness of their stunted, ingrown lives could not be more different from Kipling's. And, that difference resides in the imagination. Addie does the laundry for Caroline and when Joe delivers it, he meets the exuberant Rudyard and is drawn irretrievably into the spell of his stories. He meets Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves; and Shere Khan, a fierce Bengal tiger; Mowgli's friends, Baloo a brown bear and Bagheera a black panther; and Kaa, a 30-foot python. Joe is led into this lush jungle, filled with sounds and color and fragrance and danger, and he identifies with Mowgli's bravery. Then, he goes home to his ill-tempered father who is dismissive of Kipling because he is afraid he is losing Joe to him, but is unable to temper his granite facade.

Of course, once these opposing camps have been set up, there must be conflict. Mowgli was 11 when he took on Shere Khan; how can Joe do less? Vinton has taken a page from Kipling in describing Mowgli's gathering of the animals:

There are sambar deer, the color of cashews, wild pigs with their sickle-shaped tusks of hair that sprout from their chins and hang, curled like a mandarin's beard ... Mowgli stands with his hands on his hips, his legs splayed and his chest bared and gleaming, no longer the child who would bumble and fall as he tried to keep up with the pack.

Heady stuff for a Vermont boy who has known nothing but hardship, monotony, a loutish, often drunken father, and a timid mother. Vinton creates an entirely convincing climax to her very well-written book. She even provides a coda giving us insight into Kipling's last days. A first-rate first novel. --Valerie Ryan

About the Author:

Victoria Vinton’s stories have appeared in various publications, including Sewanee Review and Prairie Schooner. A recipient of an Artist Fellowship from the New York Foundation of the Arts and an MFA in writing from Columbia, she lives with her daughter in Brooklyn, where she is a literacy consultant for the New York City Public Schools. The Jungle Law is her first novel.

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