A young man receives a mysterious letter and map from the father he once thought dead in this debut novel.
Charlie Cadwell lost his mother at an early age and was raised by his grandmother, all the while believing his father never came back from the Vietnam War. But upon his college graduation, Charlie receives a letter from his long lost father asking him to come to him in Washington. There, he is met with a wondrous sight: the Fish Camp, an architectural utopia built upon the principles of enabling structures. Even more wondrous than the architecture he encounters at Fish Camp, however, is Maggie, the beautiful young woman who works as a nature conservationist. Reunited with his father, Charlie learns the truth behind their estrangement: broken by the Vietnam War, his father, CM, committed an act of treason and went underground. But CM has plans for Charlie; he wants him to present a design based on the Fish Camp for a contest soliciting ideas about the future of urban development. While Charlie decides whether or not to help his father, he embarks on building the last Fish Camp unit, mostly to impress and seduce Maggie. The book showcases what seem to be Alt’s two great loves: nature and architecture. With detailed, meticulous descriptions, Alt brings the Fish Camp to life and does a commendable job of explaining how it exemplifies the idea that building horizontal is more advantageous than building vertical. But Alt is equally concerned with the conservation of nature; Maggie’s battle against fish hatcheries works as metaphor for the entire battle to save the environment from destruction caused by humans. The lofty message, at times, feels a little too heavy handed with characters serving as uniformed stereotypes who don’t understand the negative consequences of their actions. Despite a rather rushed ending, Alt’s book draws to a satisfying conclusion that hinges on the strength of the relationships the author creates.
A crusading novel that blends architectural elements with the beauty of nature to evoke the benefits of sustainable development.