The Book: Too Far by Rich Shapero

About The Book

Perfect Love

Q: Robbie and Fristeen are as close as two children can be.

RS: It’s a perfect love. Many of us remember relationships like that. Does that kind of love become an expectation for adult relationships? To some extent, I sympathize with Grace when she tells Robbie that it’s easier for him. Grace wishes love could be like that for her. The boundlessness of the self at age six extends to friends as well. Not all kids experience this with a child of the opposite sex. But some do.

Q: This, for you, gets back to that question of the ideal world versus the practical one.

RS: Adults can get along. If they’re motivated, they can make things work. But if you’re looking for the fusion of psyches—two becoming one—kids have the edge. I think that adults who are able to realize this state are often using their six-year-old selves to get there.

Natural Magic

Q: As with your last book, Wild Animus, you set Too Far in the wilds of Alaska where, again, wild things fuel the story’s imaginative leaps.

RS: People have different reasons for being in love with wilderness. I enjoy the exercise, the physical demands of the outdoors. I like exploration and natural history, and taxonomy. But what I love most is the magic.

Wilderness is creation gone crazy, doing what it feels like and making up as it goes along. For me, the wilderness is ground zero for the creative imagination. As much as I love human art, I love the art in wild things more. It’s sacred art—all the triumphs of inspiration we know from the human domain, but without human boundaries. What is wilderness but a spawn of unpredictable ideas? When I was six, I lived in Illinois, on the edge of a forest. I could walk out of the back door, into what seemed like an infinite wilderness. I felt the connection between my imagination and the imagination expressed in the wilds around me.

Risk Taking

Q: In Too Far, there are conflicting ideas about the kinds of risks children should be allowed to take.

RS: Most parents struggle with this. Children prefer to assess risks on their own. They don’t want their freedoms to be abridged, and they don’t understand that parents are programmed to be fearful. Once kids become parents, they forget all of that, and think it’s their duty to second-guess their children.

Q: Robbie’s parents have irreconcilable perspectives.

RS: There’s not much compromise or collaboration. They’re really each other’s worst enemy when it comes to providing feedback to their son.

Q: You draw on some firsthand experience here.

RS: When I was six, I got in serious trouble on two occasions while wandering around in the forest. I tried to cross a frozen river, went through the ice and got swept under. I was carrying a toy rifle, and was able to chop through the ice from underneath and pull myself onto the bank. I never told my parents.

And I got seriously lost. I don’t mean confused; I mean lost—no idea where I was and no idea how to get back. I spent the better part of a day wandering around in the woods before I finally saw something I recognized. It was terrifying.

But the freedom to explore was one of the great joys of my childhood, and it strongly influenced my identity as an adult.

Children have to take risks in order to test themselves, to experience the unknown, and to define who they are. But how do you assess danger and risk if the six-year-old imagination is in high gear, and the child has shaped the world and its rules around hopes and dreams?

Living a Dream

Q: Robbie and Fristeen first connect with another realm—the realm of their gods—in their dreams. Do dreams contain the seeds of human transcendence?

RS: I think they do. I’m very attracted by the idea that we arrive here from a dream, and when we leave we disappear into another dream—or maybe the same one. Maybe my language is inside-out: we’ve come from reality and wandered into a dream during our earthly life.

What is a dream? Among other things, dreams allow us to return to a state in which the boundaries of the self seem non-existent. For Robbie and Fristeen, the realm of dream is a portal through which their heroes reach them. It’s their dimension of escape. In many ways, their life together is a dream. The world they inhabit isn’t here, it’s there.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Q: Dreams have the potential to transport us to other realms of being, but Robbie and Fristeen imagine something more dire.

RS: The willful destruction of our physical presence is hard for any of us to contemplate. Shivers’ perspective is that when he’s “done dining, there’s nothing left.” But the Dream Man knows better.

Perhaps the Dream Man is a sham, as Shivers says. But I love him all the same, and so does Robbie. When I asked my six-year-old daughter to give me a reality check on this, she defended the promise of escape offered by Dawn and her beau. Her argument was Cartesian: the fact that Robbie and Fristeen believe in their heroes, and have envisioned a world beyond the one they are imprisoned in, is a kind of proof that it exists.