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Old King by Maxim Loskutoff






Opens with a scene of one interloping of previous trodden ground, a home of past living in search of a microwave, a Duane Oshun in his ex-wife’s home uninvited, one May in Utah.
From Utah to Montana 29 year old Duane, a newly divorced man with a son of 13, with things he leaves behind and heart at battle with trying to forge a new life, a new chapter of ones life commences as a new denizen of a town will arrive wandering and inquisitive in a small town and a drive to a church may deliver some gifts of employment, friendships and social connections as one tries to start a new life.
With the new territory and chapter of life in the small town he questions if he may be happy in solace in a cabin built by ones own hands who’s new job entails cutting wood, logging, seeking happiness and solace in a cabin in the wilderness recovering from fall out of divorce would be splendid and with son to visit and live amongst beauty of the earth.
There is one interloper that also has a cabin one that paths will inevitably intersect each other and these sentences lead you with grace and a great anticipation on the how of these fates cross path one strain true and straight from the pages of dark history of the evil that men do.

Plight of men and women separated and new love to be found, old beef, grudges and enemies, the protecting of the forest and stopping of poachers, and other dangers lay in wait. A Bear dangerous enough too, that does appear in this small town and tale but also a far more dangerous being to society one with rage and anger about to show its ugly head in the wilderness.
Incorporated alongside the characters pursuit of a life and meaning and other trials there be a nicely crafted twisted portrait, the complexities and frailties and the wickedness of this man once whom terrorised the population, all embedding within the reader a memorable historical literary treat.
The author successfully juxtaposing the reader amidst wilderness and tragedy and vividly evoking the duality of nature and man with the beauty and ugliness, good and evil.

There be various greatly formulated sentences, words in line to describe various environments, emotions and scenes unfolding.
A few examples are in the excerpts i have selected.





Cars waited at service stations. Horns honked for those at the pumps to hurry up. Another gas crisis. The snowcapped Wasatch Mountains loomed overhead. Traffic lessened and the city dissolved, replaced by sweeping ranchlands with the occasional house set far back at the base of the foothills. Cows wandered aimlessly among bales of hay. Sprinklers threw silver arcs of water over alfalfa fields. Duane drove with both hands on the wheel, his lips pressed together, his former life slipping away behind him. Don’t think, he told himself. Just go.

The shadowed rectangle of her living room was like a mouth, a cave. Its wrongness called out to the street. Fear froze Tracy. All kinds of drifters and criminals were moving to Salt Lake: drug addicts, bikers, hippies. Every day there was a shooting on the evening news. Sirens followed each other across the night. The world wasn’t safe anymore, not even in Utah. She bit down on her bottom lip.

Exhausted, he drove in a kind of trance, feeling continuously swallowed by the mountains. His right arm rested on the microwave. The trees around him seemed to grow, becoming more gnarled and ancient. Past the town of Salmon, the road rose steeply in tight switchbacks. Duane pressed down on the accelerator, rattling around the curves. Trees blurred by the road, then suddenly they were gone, and snowbanks leaned over the shoulder. The chairlift at Lost Trail Powder Mountain swung silently. A faded blue sign welcomed Duane to Montana, the treasure state.

In the booth by the window, Duane could see from one end of Lincoln to the other. Soaring conifers grew in every clear spot, and congregated beyond the town in a mass that surged up the foothills. Fresh logging roads zigzagged through the greenery, and even though it was Saturday, Duane could hear the distant grind of machinery. He wondered what kind of people lived here. Maybe they were all scraggly mountain men who worked six days a week before biking home to their backwood compounds.”

She sighed again. Her great-grandfather was one of the valley’s first settlers and married her Blackfoot great-grandmother, which gave Jackie her Native American appearance, but wasn’t enough for tribal rights or blood quantum. As a kid, she’d been called Indian by the white kids and white by the Indian kids. Shouldn’t she be used to being alone?

When he turned, he discovered a tall, scrawny black steer staring at him from the center of the dirt lot. The beast was so emaciated that each rib stood out against its mangy hide like the rails of a ship. A huge letter c was branded across its shoulder. Its four hooves were planted menacingly in the dirt. A tattered notch was missing from its right ear, and the cheek below was scarred. It was a haunting, underworldly beast, completely out of place in front of the church’s swooping white roof. Slowly, Duane raised his hands. “Whoa, boy,” he said.
The steer snorted and lowered its head. Its eyes rolled, the bloodshot white giving them a crazed, demonic aspect. Duane had no experience with cows except from a distance. He was terrified.

In high school, she and her friends had come to the Glory Hole to drink, sitting on the rim and throwing their empties down into the cavernous pit. Now the place felt sacred to her. A portal to the underworld that held the valley’s history, the crumbling network of mine tunnels unknown to the tourists and newcomers who came in greater numbers every year……..
….The Glory Hole had only operated for ten years, in the 1940s and ’50s, and never produced much of anything save debt for its investors. Jackie appreciated its futility. All the hole had to offer was itself, and the time, energy, and willpower that had gone into its digging. It felt like a part of the valley’s mining legacy, and by extension her own: To dig and dig and not find what you’re looking for. Two husbands, three psychics, one reiki master, dozens of self-help books. . . .

Up close, the bear was a reminder of the true nature of existence: harsh, uncaring, immense. Ted paused. He could hear the thud of his own heart. The bear was the first real killer he’d ever encountered. He wanted to be a killer.

They had survived. All of them. Ted stared up at the screen in disgust, the ginger ale at his elbow growing warm. He’d spent a year designing the bomb, hand-made the altimeter using a modified barometer, wired it painstakingly inside a carved wooden box, sealed it with layer after layer of epoxy, and traveled more than a thousand miles to mail it. All for nothing.

Suicide seemed like the only option. He even tested the beam in his room with a leather belt. But then he realized that if he was ready to die, he could do anything. He could kill someone else instead of himself. This idea saved him, sustained him through three more years of teaching as he set aside money to buy his land. Then he’d rid the world of the people he hated, the arrogant fools degrading the human condition.

The summer sun was rising toward its zenith and heat waves shimmered on the horizon. Mason looked across at the Swan Range. He tried to decipher the scope of the beauty and cruelty contained within the Blackfoot Valley. He’d heard rumors of hermits who survived for decades in the Bob, emerging only in spring and fall to resupply. Could he join them? Would he be better off?

The Postal Service was one of the last institutions they trusted. If more bombs were sent and people became afraid of their mail, it could shake the very foundation of democracy.

Their eyes met after he placed the bomb in the parking lot. It was too late to pick up the bomb—it was armed—so he’d fled. It doesn’t matter, he told himself. She can’t identify you. He hunched his shoulders and tucked his chin into his hooded sweatshirt. Aviator sunglasses blocked his eyes, and he’d rubbed bootblack into his cheeks to darken his complexion. A fake mustache was pasted over his upper lip. Still, he felt a crushing terror, fearing agents in pursuit.

The composite sketch was a simple charcoal rendering of a man in large aviator sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt. White but with something faintly Hispanic in his shaded features. Young, average height, average build. The only distinguishing characteristics were his gaunt cheeks, which the artist had carefully emphasized in shadow, and the pencil mustache drawn above his thin downturned lips. A sad face, Nep thought, leaning over his desk to study the drawing more closely. A trapped and angry young man.

He paused atop the trail and looked out over the valley. The view was obscured by the pine-furred shoulders of the rolling hills, but he could make out the swooping curve of the church roof like a dropped feather in the distance beside the snaking path of the Big Blackfoot River. To the north, the peaks of the Lewis Mountains in the Bob Marshall Wilderness reared up against the horizon like the points of a massive submerged crown, and Hudson imagined an old king buried deep beneath the earth, beginning to rise.
Visions of his future pulsed in him, synced with the music of the engine as he descended through the clear-cut at the mouth of the gulch. Faster and faster, he found he could cast himself forward into every luster of his life to come—moving back here to Lincoln as soon as he graduated from high school, finding work at the auto shop, riding in the mountains every afternoon. He saw these paths as if time had flattened into a honeycomb and each moment of his past and future were present in a distinct cell across the orange-tinted field of the helmet’s visor. He peered down one, seeing a wife and child curled together on a wool blanket, a future of protection and love. In another, he lived alone in a cabin in the woods near his father.



About Old King


In this haunting novel about the end of the frontier dream, a man tries to reinvent himself in one of America’s last wild territories, while his neighbor begins a crime spree that will tremble the nation.

In the summer of 1976, Duane Oshun finds himself stranded in a remote Montana town beset by a series of strange and menacing events. He takes a job as a logger and builds a cabin on an isolated road near a reclusive neighbor—a hermit named Ted Kaczynski.

The two men are captivated by the valley’s endangered old-growth forest, but Kaczynski’s violent grievances against modern society soon threaten the lives of all those around him. As Kaczynski’s bombs crescendo to the book’s devastating conclusion, Old King wrestles with the birth of the modern environmental movement, the accelerating dominion of technology in American life, and a new kind of violence that lives next door.



Praise For Old King


Powerful and suspenseful…Loskutoff’s narrative is swiftly paced and deeply textured, with a keen sense of the landscape and its cantankerous human inhabitants. This leaves a mark.
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)

A gripping story of love and compassion, the end of the counterculture movement, and the nihilism and violence that replaced it. Maxim Loskutoff delves deep into America’s changing narrative, our lost connection to nature, and our attempts to regain them.
-Philipp Meyer, Pulitzer Prize finalist author of The Son

Old King is an exhilarating journey through the terrain of our uneasy kinship with the wilderness. Every misdeed and every act of devotion is thrillingly, horrifically, tenderly, magnificently true in these mountains.
-Megha Majumdar, New York Times best-selling author of A Burning

A Cormac McCarthy-esque story of a deeply troubled American west, Old King is lyrical, haunting, humane, and unflinching. It reads like an approaching thunderstorm, one from which you cannot shelter.
-Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World

Propulsive and thought-provoking . . . [Old King] examines the boundaries of society and solitude, the fine line between genius and madness.
-Jamie Ford, New York Times best-selling author of The Many Daughters of Afong Moy

An unforgettable story about what we ask of the wilderness and one another, Old King put its claws in me and didn’t let go. In crystalline prose, Maxim Loskutoff conjures an American West animated by both loneliness and love, weaving a kaleidoscopic story that is as historically gripping as it is timely today.
-Erica Berry, author of Wolfish






About Maxim Loskutoff

Maxim Loskutoff is the award-winning author of Old King, Ruthie Fear and Come West and See. His stories and essays have appeared in numerous periodicals, including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Ploughshares, and GQ. He lives in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana.


Photo by Cinna Cuddie