“Spurred on by a desire to raise a family of her own and decipher the genetic code for either survival or destruction that she might be passing on, Carpenter performs a wild pas de deux with the cantankerous George, approaching him as one would a wild animal with no trust in humanity. Carpenter chronicles her daring quest for understanding and familial continuity in this sincere and remarkably uninhibited memoir.” —Booklist
“I’m so glad Novella Carpenter has written this book. It’s gratifying to see a woman take on the question that has pulled at male authors for so long—namely, ‘What am I to make of my old man?’ In her efforts to answer that question (and to reconsider and reconcile her own complicated family history) Carpenter goes on nothing less than a vision quest, in search of answers from a particularly reticent and strange father. The resulting journey is both brave and honest. There is much to be learned here for all daughters—about acceptance, about redemption, about the distances we must go at times to find our own deepest familial truths.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, author of The Signature of All Things and Eat, Pray, Love
“Novella Carpenter couldn’t be more fun to hang out with on the page. Gone Feral is full of scruffiness and wit, melancholy and compassion. It’s an extraordinary portrait of a father and daughter doing their best to be family.” —Jon Mooallem, author of Wild Ones
“Novella Carpenter is a delightful storyteller, and Gone Feral reads like a fable, full of wild and unknown things, including a trickster father, whose mountain man fantasies and failed dreams lead the author on her own sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking journey of discovery.” —Kim Barnes, author of In the Wilderness and In the Kingdom of Men
“Novella, you have a visitor,” Peggy, the receptionist at the Idaho Falls Post Register told me over the phone, though the office was small enough that I could hear her without amplification.
It was 2006, and I was in Idaho Falls for a summer-long newspaper reporting gig. I was thirty-two, still trying to figure out what to do with my life. I had come to Idaho because of my dad; he lived only a few hours from where I would be stationed. As soon as I arrived, I sent word that I was in state and waited for a response. I hadn’t seen him since 2001, when we had one of our usual brief and unsatisfying one-hour-long reunions. The summer was almost over before an e-mail finally arrived: He was coming the next day, and he was bringing his fly-fishing gear.
When Peggy called, I came out from my cubicle and there he was. He was lean and wore a dirty beige cowboy hat, a worn pair of Levi’s, and a Pendleton wool shirt I had sent him for Christmas ten years before.
“Hey sweets!” he yelled. He gave me a hug and a kiss. He had an elfin expression on his face, brown eyes shining, pointy chin. He looked fit as a fiddle.
“This is quite a place,” he said, surveying my ratty office. “This is big time! I’ll be damned.” I guessed that he hadn’t been to many offices before. I wasn’t sure what he was impressed by—the flimsy pressboard desks? The ancient computers? He let out a hoot and gave me another hug.
That night we went to Fred Meyer and bought fishing licenses, then split the prime rib special at a tourist restaurant called Fish and Steak. When we got back to my apartment after dinner he settled into my closet to sleep, choosing the floor over my perfectly good couch. The next morning, when I woke up, his sleeping bag was still in the closet, but he was nowhere to be found.
“Dad?” I called and looked in the kitchen. I prepared myself for the inevitable—he had left, it had been too intense seeing me, and as usual, he bailed.
Then I heard it: music, slightly muffled. I looked out the window of my apartment, through the vibrant green leaves of the plane trees. I saw my dad sitting in the passenger seat of his dingy blue Geo Metro. The door was ajar. One cowboy-boot–clad foot rested on the curb. He was playing his guitar.