The Shape of Wilderness

A novel by Shelley Berc

October 1, 1995 • 5.5 x 8.5 • 300 pages • 978-1-56689-036-5

A coming-of-age story set in a prophetic American wilderness, by an award-winning playwright.

Twin sisters Miranda and Rose live in a deserted hotel that their dreamer father built to attract a railroad and a city which never came. As their mother chases a delusion of her own, the sisters encounter an itinerant artist and a shady trapper whose impact on their lives proves shattering. With exquisite storytelling and seamless use of magic realism, The Shape of Wilderness follows Miranda and Rose on a journey of carnal and metaphysical love; spiritual and emotional violence; art and materialism; wilderness and civilization; loss and coming-of-age. A map of the mythos of America, a cartography of the human spirit, this stunning novel explores how we shape our destinies and how they shape us.

About the Author

Shelley Berc and her husband, Alejandro Fogel, have been cultural ambassadors for the US State Department’s Arts America Program, lecturing in their artistic fields and teaching workshops in creativity in Hungary, Rumania, Australia, and Italy. Berc was Professor of the International Writing Program and the Iowa Playwrights Workshop at the University of Iowa from 1985-2000. She holds an MFA from the Yale School of Drama and was one of the first women to graduate from Amherst College. Her first novel, The Shape of Wilderness, was praised by the New York Times.

Her awards include a McKnight Fellowship, two Lila Wallace/Readers Digest awards, Rockefeller/Bellagio Fellowship, National Jewish Culture Playwriting award, the prestigious two year Pew/TCG National Theatre Artists Residency, an NEA Opera/Music librettist fellowship, and an Outer Critics Circle nomination for best off-Broadway play.


“A vividly imagined parable. . . . A strange and potent book . . . . A fantastical world of unusual sensuality and invention.” New York Times

“Berc has won awards for her plays, including Rameau’s Nephew, and now brings her taste for metaphysics and unconventional storytelling to fiction. Her first novel is a fluid, often theatrical composition: action flows into dream, objects into symbols, consciousness into trance. The setting is an elaborate hotel in the middle of nowhere built with great hope by Emmanuel and Cora, who believed the railroad would bring them customers. Instead, they live in splendid isolation, that is, Cora and their twin daughters, Rose and Miranda, do. Emmanuel abandoned them. So it’s a household of women. Cora and her housekeeper, Emerald, are lovers; and Miranda and Rose, 15 years old and complete opposites in appearance and temperament, are poised for their mythical, often terrifying, rites of passage into womanhood. Miranda is an artist ruled by an unruly and overpowering muse and love for a young stranger. Rose aligns herself with a dangerous and brutal man who promises to teach her about eternal life. And all the mystery and drama of their adventures serve to dramatize the ways wilderness both shapes us and takes shape within us.” Booklist