Inland by Tea Obreht
This was certainly unexpected as a follow-up to The Tiger’s Wife. Set largely in the Arizona Territory in the 19th century, it has two alternating storylines that we imagine throughout surely somehow must intersect, although it takes a long time to learn how. One is Nora, a frontierswoman in the midst of a crisis that unfolds over approximately 24 hours, and the other is Lurie, whom we follow as an outlaw from about age 6, who joins a group of cameleers (yes, camels, in the western US, and this is all based on meticulous historical research), and addresses all of his sections to his camel, Burke.
The two stories share some things, most prominently the existence of (or perhaps just characters’ belief in) the dead remaining among us, in one way or another. It was a slow read, and it took some work. It was incredibly dense and intricate, especially the Nora sections where we slowly learn a lot of very important things about her situation that are not apparent from the outset, especially because the narration stays tightly tethered to her thoughts.
What struck me most was how fully committed Obreht was to the setting–the language, the details, the, for lack of a better word, rules of that world are so fully developed, it’s hard to imagine how she created something so immersive from a vantage point like today.