A stunning novel about sacrifice for the sake of survival in the aftermath of natural and man-made disasters.
For her first novel, Glaciers (2012), Smith was a finalist for the Ken Kesey Award and selected for World Book Night. Her second is written with the same precision and affect. Lucie left Orwell Island, an islet off the northwest coast of Washington, after a devastating earthquake in 1993 killed her father and caused a ruinous fire at the local refinery on nearby Marrow Island, a catastrophe made worse by the petroleum, flame-retardants, and oil-dispersing chemicals that poisoned the groundwater and soil. Two decades later, to recuperate after losing her job as an eco-journalist in Seattle, Lucie returns to her family cottage on Orwell. There, she reconnects with her dearest childhood friend, Katie, who is living on Marrow—still believed to be contaminated and deserted—in a colony of 36 adherents led by the magnetic Sister Janet. The colony is invested in experimental environmental remediation efforts. Their intentions are noble and their methods are inspired, but while success appears imminent, their project breaches the boundaries of safety and legality. A suspenseful story that shifts back and forth through time as it climbs to its harrowing climax, this book illustrates “how easily the fight for something fundamentally good can go astray in human hands.” As Smith writes, “It’s still a fight; fights get bloody.” In graceful and dolorous prose, she captures a dense and dramatic landscape, evoking questions of what it means to harm—ourselves, our surroundings—and to heal.
Engrossing eco-fiction, eerie and earnest.