A Review of Bathsheba Monk’s Nude Walker
by Eric D. Goodman
Nude Walker by Bathsheba Monk is, in many ways, a novel about change.
Change is a theme worth exploring in a multitude of ways, and the author does so in this book. People tend to approach change differently. There is the sense of loss—loss of innocence, loss of fitting into a comfortable place or system. Then there’s the glimpse of gain—change for the better, making steps to an improved tomorrow. One may lament innocence lost or celebrate wisdom gained; might look at a crumbling city and either long for the days that used to be or picture opportunities for fresh beginnings. And oftentimes, it’s not one or another but both of these feelings that jockey for our feelings.
Monk successfully navigates a collection of characters through the changes in their hometown, changes in their relationships, their cultures, and themselves. We see the dilapidated city of Warrenside, Penn. through the eyes of a number of characters. Three of them are returning home from a tour in Afghanistan: Kat, Duck, and Max. In a classic love triangle, Duck loves Kat and Kat loves Max. But Max is also scheduled to participate in an arranged marriage and take his place as heir to his father’s commercial empire.
We also see Warrenside through the eyes of old souls confronted with the new world. Wind, a half-Swedish Native American, struggles to keep the ways of her ancestors even in impossible conditions. Kat’s mother, Barbara, clings to the old-money legacy of her privileged past long after it has dissolved around her. And Max’s father, Dr. Asad, must reinvent his vision of the future when life gets in the way of his life’s plan.
The alternating points of view are handled with care. Oftentimes in such books it can be easy to become bored with one character, waiting to get back to another. But in Nude Walker, it’s easy for the reader to care about all of these characters. Although they are perhaps not equally lovable, they are rendered by the author with equal compassion.
Especially nice are moments in the book when the reader realizes conflicting hopes—the wants of characters at odds with one another. (I hope Duck gets the girl, I hope Kat gets her guy, I hope Dr. Asad’s hard work isn’t all in vain). Yes realization of one is automatically the crushing of another.
Also, the theme of old ways dying off, the need to reinvent a person place, or way of life, was at once somber and comforting.
The book brims with the sense that every fortune is built on another’s misfortune, that the “wheel” of fortune is always in motion, passing from one person to another. This goes for relationships and personal hopes and dreams as well as for business goals.
Wind sums up a major theme in the novel when she looks at all that is holding her back from living her life and determines in a refreshing moment of revelation, “You are not me.”
Not to make Bathsheba Monk’s debut novel sound like a lesson book. These themes are undercurrents to the exciting story of these three-dimensional characters and their captivating situations. Nude Walker is an enjoyable read that just might teach us something about ourselves and the world that is changing around us.
Eric D. Goodman is the author of Tracks, a novel in stories being published by Atticus Books on June 30. He regularly reads his fiction on Baltimore’s NPR station, WYPR, and at book festivals and literary events. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Writers Weekly, Grub Street, Scribble, Arabesques Review, and New Lines from the Old Line State: An Anthology of Maryland Writers, among others.