The Empty Quarter

The Empty Quarter
Boaz/Ten Speed Press, 1998

Recommended by Gulf/2000 Project, School of International and Public Affairs, Colombia University, New York.

Critical Praise for The Empty Quarter

Author’s Comments on The Empty Quarter

My first novel, Not Between Brothers, has done well for me, better than I ever hoped. And yet, I’m proudest of this one, my second. It’s not often that a writer has the opportunity to draw upon a life-changing experience to mold years later into a work of fiction. This is not said to take away from the many writers who have and will continue to mine their personal experiences to craft fascinating, wondrous stories. But The Empty Quarter draws from mine. I felt I was able to draw upon life experience in the exact manner Herman Melville drew upon his knowledge of the sea and sailing in Billy Budd, and, more particularly, his knowledge of whaling in Moby Dick. Please don’t misunderstand me, reader. I’m not making comparisons between my writing and Mr. Melville’s undisputed genius. All I’m saying is that from the very beginning, my ambition was the same as his—to use life experience as a metaphor for the world I encountered as I came of age. What sort of job I’ve done of this is for others to say. But I will tell you that from my perspective The Empty Quarter runs circles around my award-winning first novel. If Not Between Brothers attempts to make sense of the world our pioneer ancestors inherited, The Empty Quarter was my attempt to make sense of my own. My protagonist, Logan Wilson, clings to a specialized, free-wheeling, sometimes cruel, and always harsh way of life he entirely understands. I once belonged wholeheartedly to this same world. In my youth, I was proud to be a member of the oilfield fraternity, and I understand roughnecks as few writers ever will. I spent years of my life living and working with these special people. I knew their strengths, their weaknesses, their triumphs, and their trials. I could imagine a face for every character in the novel, as well as the personality that accompanied it. I knew these people. And I trusted them with my life, as I hope they trusted me with theirs. What will come of this obscure book is also not for me to say. Yet I can say without flinching that it will be some time before another writer equals the insider knowledge that stitches this story together; explores the unlikely bond that formed between men in the Rub Al Khali desert; breathes life into that iron world that I used to call my own — the very same world a reader discovers between the pages of The Empty Quarter.

There will be other books from me. Hopefully each will be better than the one it follows. But I will never write another quite like The Empty Quarter. I gave you the very best I have, from my heart to yours. If I did a decent job of it, if I came close to giving this story the justice it deserved, you’ll understand that your journey—regardless of where it began and where it took you—was was probably as difficult as mine. In the end, The Empty Quarter is a novel of determination and of hope; a celebration of the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

The author, David Marion Wilkinson, December 9, 1998

Critical Praise for The Empty Quarter

“In The Empty Quarter, Wilkinson portrays a different world, the modern Saudi Arabian oilfields where he worked in the 1980s…[the author] writes with technical detail and expertise about the fears, successes, and occasional tragedies of drilling…The Empty Quarter is ultimately a book about human nature struggling against nature, and itself. There are no forced morals or political messages, just human strength and weakness— the only elements needed for a powerful novel.
David Bezanson – Austin American-Statesman

The Empty Quarter evokes a whole culture; I don’t know anyone else who has even tried. Every character is finely rendered. Jamie Strong is a triumph— complex, maddening. All the minor characters are terrific; I adored the Indians. The language is intelligent and deft, the pacing perfect. In short, this novel is a great achievement and a great read.”
Sandra Scofield, Author of Opal on Dry Ground and Plain Seeing

“The rigors of life on an oil rig form the backdrop for Wilkinson’s atmospheric and absorbing second novel…the climax packs a wallop and the emotional aftermath rings surprisingly true. Wilkinson bends conventions of formula enough to keep things interesting, but the most fascinating aspect of his book is its inside take on the bizarre macho rituals employed by workers to keep their sanity under terribly stressful working conditions…Anyone eager to learn about [Wilkinson’s] world is sure to find this a satisfying, illuminating read.”
Publishers Weekly

“…The story moves along on different levels, the external action mostly on and around the big rig as it bores toward the enormous untapped energy beneath the Rub al Khali. And herein lies the strength of the book, for Mr. Wilkinson has worked on drilling rigs both in the North Sea and Saudi Arabia, and the reader will be swept along by the sureness of his prose…the information comes in the context of the story and tends to pull you in rather than push you away…an arresting and entertaining novel, one that taps something deep, that reservoir within us all that is both vital and unexplored.”
Donley Watt – The Dallas Morning News

“In the writing [the author] strikes a remarkable balance between a convincing grasp of technology and the error of dullness by detail. Because while the rig is the stage on which most of the story is acted out, the real subject is not oil drilling but rather a crisis of conscience for a narrator faced with conflict between loyalty to a friend and concern about the project, and the welfare of a fascinating crew of Indians who are performing the dirtiest work at the site…In The Empty Quarter [the author] takes advantage of his own experiences…while honing the novelist’s skills he introduced in a [first] novel nominated for a Spur Award by Western Writers of America. Wilkinson is versatile, a splendid quality to demonstrate in a second novel.”
Mary Kate Tripp, Book Editor – Amarillo News-Globe

“Wilkinson’s novel isn’t just for those interested in the oil industry…the book presents a… character seeking not only survival but self-understanding through the life-threatening events he faces.”
Jacqueline Banks – Texas Alcalde

The Empty Quarter is one of those remarkably gripping stories that leaves the reader a little energy-sapped because of his, or her, involvement in the lives of unusual characters in an unusual setting. This tale of drilling is, in fact, more about drilling into the souls of men.”
Terry Kay, Author of The Runaway, Shadow Song, and To Dance With the White Dog

“If you’ve ever worked in the oil patch, you’ll enjoy this book. If you’ve never worked in the oil patch, you’ll enjoy this book…This is a tremendously exciting novel to read whether you know a `Christmas tree’ from a toadstool.”
Arthur Shoemaker – The Tulsa World

“The Rub al Khali, or ’empty quarter’ of the Saudi Arabian desert, is the setting for this portrayal of the barbarities that bond but eventually cause tragic disarray among an international crew of oil rigworkers…Momentum #127 comes alive with Wilkinson’s deft ability to breathe life into this inanimate object. If Melville had his whale, Wilkinson has his oil rig…Not Between Brothers readers will be pleased to discover that Wilkinson’s dialogue in The Empty Quarter is often worthy of the barbed, tinged exchanges of Forties noir…If you’re searching for an antidote to the depiction of self-conscious masculinity so endemic to contemporary literature, look no further than The Empty Quarter. It’s unabashedly old-school masculine through and through, and the alpha male is Jamie Strong, straight out of West Texas, an oil rig boss who’s racist but generous, tough but vulnerable.”
Clay Smith, Book Editor – The Austin Chronicle

“Filled with memorable characters, an incredible sense of place, and a host of obstacles ranging from the environment to technology to personal conflict, The Empty Quarter keeps the reader riveted in anticipation, wondering what in God’s name will happen next.”
W.C. Jameson, Author

Visit Arab Gateway, a website promoting the cultures of the Middle East which featured The Empty Quarter