Katelyn Leboff reviews OUTSIDE by Barry Lopez

March 15, 2016 0 Comments Uncategorized 3954 Views

Photo of cover courtesy of publisher’s website.


A Review of Lopez, Barry. Outside. Trinity University Press, 2014. Hardcover. pp. 120. $18.95

Review by Katelyn Leboff

With his book, Outside, Barry Lopez weaves together a series of six short stories of fiction that flow like prose poetry and are brimming with beautiful, vivid imagery you can hear, smell, and see as you delve into each narrative. The stories ring with metaphors and emanate a tone of folklore in a way that is reminiscent of Native American and ancient storytelling, captivating the reader as do fireside stories. In the traditional cultures of Native Americans and many others, nature is often connected to spirituality; an idea which very much inspired Lopez’s writings as well as his experiences with many indigenous storytellers.In the introduction, James Perrin Warren writes, in the spirit of Lopez, that “Storytelling embodies, then, a conversation with the land, and in its most elevated and authentic form it combines the empirical, aesthetic, and spiritual landscapes.”

“Listen until you can hear the dreams of the dust that settles on your head.”

In Outside, each story seems to flow well together as a series, with a consistent tone and themes, but each with its own uniqueness. A running theme of each story is that of the relationships between nature and humans – the exterior and interior landscapes. A more subtle theme – one that Lopez notes in the afterword – is that of the “ways in which wild animals are woven into the fabric of human society.”  In many instances of these six stories, Lopez anthropomorphizes the animals he writes about, describing them in a way that one might a human. He also implements personification frequently throughout his tales, further connecting his style to that of folklore and fables.

“An enormous owl arrived while you slept and took your daughter away, pinioned in his gray fists.”

“Their wings flared above me like parasols. They held my lips apart with slender toes.”

Each story is a strand woven together in harmony, like that of Empira’s “brilliant, almost luminous” tapestry from the sixth and final story. The only kink in this tapestry might have been  “The Falls,” the fourth story. While it contains the same themes of animal/nature and human connections, the content and narrative seems disjointed from the others in a way that is not exactly pleasing, but this may well have been Lopez’s intent. “The Falls” portrays itself as a story of a man who commits suicide but leaves the reader feeling unsure and lost.  It was graphic, violent, and dark. “The Falls” is a tale that rings of a werewolf fable, and it even might be as Lopez writes “the dog knew the boy would be a man someday and would no longer want to be… even a half–breed dog like himself.” Perhaps, this story is a more realistic approach to describe the external and internal landscapes.

The first person perspective is refreshing and enjoyable. Lopez writes as both a man and a woman in these six stories. Interesting, black and gray illustrations pepper the book and add life to the stories but could have been more eye catching. The stories can be hard to follow at times, and many complicated word choices can distract readers causing them to stumble over the meanings.

Each story invokes a mixture of emotions – sadness, delight, wonder, awe. The most touching, though, was “Empira.” It is the tale of a woman who is different, who inspires envy and admiration from the protagonist and from the other characters. She also commits suicide in the end, but her decision to do so is more poetic, simple, and understandable than the suicide we witness in “The Falls.” When Empira surrenders herself to the strong current of the river to die and leave her cancerous body, we see that her magnificent work of art, her tapestry, is the protective shawl that is her coffin.

“The Desert,” the first story we encounter, is one of most lyrical and abounds with colorful descriptions and imagery. It is the shortest of the six but sticks with you. “You will think you have hold of the idea when you only have hold of its clothing.” Often Lopez finds innovative ways to describe universal feelings, freeing his writing from cliche. “The Desert” has a quiet to it, a slow pace and a mysteriousness. It reads like a cautionary tale and one of wisdom and experience with the land of the desert.

“Twilight” also stands out from the rest. It is different from the others as its protagonist is a Navajo rug which absorbs the essence and spirit of each of its many owners. We follow its journey from one owner to the next until it arrives to our narrator. Lopez often has a talent for saying a lot with very little. In “Twilight,” the narrator describes Frank, who is given the blanket by the sailor, Benedict Langer. Frank then sends it to his parents as an anniversary present and “includes with it a document he has made up in the ship’s print shop to the effect that it is authentic Pawnee blanket, so his parents will be proud.”  He hopes they will hang it on their wall. Instead, they shove it in their hall closet, still in the box, and never discuss it again. Lopez gives us a story within a story in a subtle, successful way.  This paragraph reveals the strained relationship Frank has had with his parents, how little they have and still seem to care about him, and how much he still hopes and tries to please them to no effect. It is heartbreaking in just three sentences.

In many instances, Lopez subtly employs a poetic device: alliteration, such as in “Within the Birds’ Hearing.” He also pumps the close of this particular story with strong imagery and unique descriptives. “The ocean is far away, but I feel my breath booming.. wind evaporating water tighten my bare flesh… I can distinguish in it the last halt cries of birds, becalmed in the marshes.”

Lopez gives his readers a physical, spiritual, and visual experience. He gives us wisdom and encourages introspection – “everything that was afraid would live poorly.” Outside is a quick read and an escape. As James Perrin Warren ends his introduction, “Barry Lopez shows his gifts as a storyteller,” you will not be disappointed in Lopez’s six stories from Outside.


“Barry Lopez is] a powerful storyteller.”— Margaret Atwood

“[Barry Lopez] leaves all the right things unsaid, and the silence resonates.”— Time

About the Author:

author photo

Image and biography courtesy of publisher’s website.

Barry Lopez is an essayist, author, and short-story writer and has traveled extensively in both remote and populated parts of the world. He is the author of Arctic Dreams, for which he received the National Book Award; Of Wolves and Men, a National Book Award finalist for which he received the John Burroughs and Christopher medals; and eight works of fiction, including Light Action in the Caribbean, Field Notes, and Resistance. His essays are collected in two books, Crossing Open Ground and About This Life. He contributes regularly to Granta, the Georgia Review, Orion, Outside, the Paris Review, Manoa, and other publications. His work has appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Best American Essays, Best Spiritual Writing, and the “best” collections from National Geographic, Outside, the Georgia Review, the Paris Review, and other periodicals. Lopez lives in western Oregon.


Other published works:

Outside, with engravings by Barry Moser, Trinity University Press 2014. [This trade edition, designed by Moser, is based on the fine press limited edition published by Nawakum Press 2013. Both editions include six stories by Barry Lopez, two each from Desert Notes, River Notesand Field Notes; an Afterword by Barry Lopez; Moser’s artwork; and an Introduction by James Warren.]

Resistance, with monotypes by Alan Magee. Knopf 2004, Vintage 2005.

Vintage Lopez, Vintage 2004. Original paperback.

Light Action in the Caribbean, Knopf 2000, Vintage 2001.

About This Life, Knopf 1998, Vintage 1999.

Apologia, with woodblock illustrations by Robin Eschner, University of Georgia Press 1998. [Based on the fine press limited edition published by lone goose press 1997. Both editions include Eschner’s artwork and the text of the essay “Apologia” from Crossing Open Ground.] Published only in hardback.

Lessons from the Wolverine, a short story from Field Notes, with illustrations by Tom Pohrt, University of Georgia Press 1997. Published only in hardback.

Field Notes, Knopf 1994, Vintage 2004. (Earlier softcover editions also exist.)

The Rediscovery of North America, University Press of Kentucky 1990, Vintage 1992.

Crow and Weasel, with illustrations by Tom Pohrt, North Point Press 1990, Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1998. (Earlier softcover editions also exist.) Stage play, Crow & Weasel, by Jim Leonard, Jr., with Barry Lopez, Samuel French 1996.

Crossing Open Ground, Charles Scribner’s Sons 1988, Vintage 1989.

Arctic Dreams, Charles Scribner’s Sons 1986, Vintage 2001. (Earlier softcover editions also exist.)

Winter Count, Charles Scribner’s Sons 1981, Vintage 2001. (Earlier softcover editions also exist.)

River Notes, Andrews and McMeel 1979, Avon 1980. (After 1990 appears in a combined volume entitled Desert Notes/​River Notes, Avon 1990.)

Of Wolves and Men, Charles Scribner’s Sons 1978, Scribner Library 1979. (Twenty-fifth anniversary edition, with Afterword and additional bibliographic notes by BL, published simultaneously in hardcover and softcover editions, Scribner 2004.)

Giving Birth to Thunder, Andrews and McMeel 1978, Avon 1981.

Desert Notes, Sheed, Andrews & McMeel 1976, Avon 1981. (After 1990, appears in a combined volume entitled Desert Notes/​River Notes, Avon 1990.

Notable Links:

Lopez’s website: www.barrylopez.com

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_Lopez

Trinity University Press website:



About the Reviewer:

Katelyn works in marketing out of Knoxville, TN while also pursuing her Masters in Publishing at The George Washington University.  Her creative work has appeared in Aubade, Silver Birch Press, and Spurt Literary Journal as well as many other online and print publications. Katelyn holds an English (Creative Writing) degree from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA. She spends her free time snuggling with her dog, Luna, and volunteering with Friends of Literacy. When Katelyn needs to relax, you can find her shooting pool, watching football, playing video games, or reading and writing in a local café (but only drinking tea, of course, as coffee is repulsive.).


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