Wilderness and Razor Wire

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Serving time in an Arizona state prison, Ken Lamberton writes about his crime, the effects of his incarceration on his wife and children, and the ways in which his observation of and reflections about the world of nature helped heal and instruct him, as well as pass the time. “In a place where boredom can be refined to a new level,” he writes, observing any aspects, insects and birds for example, of the natural world that comes within the prison yard or can be observed beyond the wire, diverts and instructs. When his children come to visit, they search for, find, and play with several species of toads that live within the prison, especially within the visitation park.

Lamberton was freed by his trial judge for eighteen months before an appeals court sent him back to prison. Perhaps the most moving chapter is “The Wisdom of Toads.” In it he alternates scenes of collecting with his daughters spadefoot toads after a hard desert rain with his catching and studying an out-of- place spadefoot exposed on the margin of the prison track after being returned to prison. He picked up the toad and brought him back to his cell to sketch him. As he warms, the toad begins to sing a song of passion. The desire evident in the toad’s song reminds Lamberton that “desire sometimes goes unheard and unanswered out of season. Or out of place.” In sorrow and experience is the beginning of wisdom. Wilderness and Razor Wire: A Naturalist’s Observations from Prison is a wise book.