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'Undiscovered Country'

Minnesota author Lin Enger spoke about his novel, "Undiscovered Country," on Monday afternoon at the Detroit Lakes Public Library. Photo by - Vicki Gerdes

Though Lin Enger's debut novel, "Undiscovered Country," was published in 2008, the scene that formed the core of his narrative actually came to him about a decade earlier.

That scene, where 17-year-old Jesse Matson discovers the body of his father lying near his deer stand in the woods of northwest Minnesota, "with his head blown off," was originally intended to be the opening of Enger's book.

But as he told a group of avid listeners Monday afternoon at the Detroit Lakes Public Library, Enger eventually judged the scene to be "too brutal" to start off the novel, and so he wrote a prologue "to soften the opening" a little.

While he hadn't originally intended the plot of his book to echo that of the classic Shakespearean tragedy, "Hamlet," Enger said, the idea came to him while teaching a group of students at Minnesota State University Moorhead that he could use the same basic setup for his own narrative.

"And that's what I did," he said, though he admitted that he had started writing it "with something quite different in mind" back in the early 2000s.

Enger said there were three basic reasons why he chose "Hamlet" as his literary inspiration.

The first, he said, is because he felt it was "universal in its themes and its plot."

"Hamlet is the quintessential adolescent," Enger said -- a teenager suddenly forced into adulthood by the death of his father and the unexpected marriage of his mother Gertrude to his uncle, Claudius -- which threw his own future into upheaval and caused him to mistrust his mother's love.

Secondly, Enger said,

"Hamlet" is, at its most basic level, a revenge story -- "and Americans love revenge stories."

But even though it's a revenge story, he added, "it's a very complicated and interesting one."

The third reason, Enger said, is that "Hamlet" is set in Denmark, reflecting his own Scandinavian heritage.

"The dark, brooding skies of Denmark are familiar to me," he added. Though he has only visited that country once, Enger added, "this is a similar place."

"That history is something that was very real to me, growing up," Engr said. "Hamlet felt very close to me personally."

But even though there are echoes of Hamlet's dilemma in that of Enger's protagonist Jesse, the narrative does not follow the plot of "Hamlet" too closely, he said.

In fact, there are only a handful of passages that deliberately parallel William Shakespeare's story -- one of them being Hamlet's iconic "to be or not to be soliloquy, from which the title of the book was derived.

After he finished his presentation, Enger took questions from the audience about such things as his writing process, how he works with a book editor, and his literary influences.

Besides Shakespeare, Enger listed some of his other inspirations as authors Cormac McCarthy, James Welch and Jon Hassler. His favorite book? "Crime and Punishment."

He said that his most productive writing time was late at night, after 10 p.m., and that he tends to lay out his rough drafts in bursts of one to two hours.

The reason for that, he said, is that the initial creative process "really taxes your imagination," and that after a couple of hours, he's worn out.

"If I'm revising, I could work for 14-15 hours at a time," he added.

Enger's appearance at the Detroit Lakes Library on Monday was one of several local visits by Minnesota authors and artists planned this fall as part of the Lake Agassiz Regional Library (LARL) System's "The Beat Goes On" series.

Others include author and comedienne Lorna Landvik on Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m.; author and adventurer Mary Shideler on Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m.; visual artist Mike Marth on Thursday, Nov. 1 at 12 p.m. (brown bag lunch); storytellers The Wonder Weavers on Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 2 p.m.; musician Dan "Daddy Squeeze" Newton on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 10:30 a.m., photographer Doug Ohman pm Tuesday, Nov. 27 at 10:30 a.m.; children's author Nancy Carlson on Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 6:30 p.m.; and historian Dr. Verlyn Anderson on Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 10:30 a.m.

The Detroit Lakes Library is located at 1000 Washington Ave., Detroit Lakes. Call 218-847-2168 for more information, or visit the website at

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454