In this novel, a solitary woman gets lost in the woods—and finds herself.
On a “cool spring morning,” an initially unnamed woman wakes up and decides to go for a hike. She packs some snacks and a bottle of water, then drives to a remote area and heads into the woods for what she expects to be a brisk afternoon hike. Then she loses her way. Wandering in the forest, she battles hunger and injury as she gradually adapts to surviving in the wild. In her poetic debut, Miller offers few details about her protagonist’s everyday life, but she does reveal that she’s already isolated herself from society: “Friendship, intimacy, even neighborly acquaintance had become mere words, notions, like islands seen from afar.” There’s a fairy-tale quality to the first part of the woman’s journey. On one of her first nights in the woods, for instance, she encounters a woman in a dream who’s similar to the witch in “Hansel and Gretel.” Later, she explores the cellar of a ruined house and seems to pass into another world; she also finds plants that have magical healing properties. But just as the woman is finding peace in her new surroundings, a man named Luke intrudes upon her solitude, and the woman (who eventually reveals that her name is Annie) must decide whether to trust this stranger—and whether to leave the safety of the wood. The quietly fantastical quality of the book’s first third dissipates as Miller introduces Luke’s perspective, and his story lacks the emotionally resonant intimacy of the sections told from Annie’s point of view. Still, Miller ably brings to life the two characters’ tentative steps toward friendship, with each of them hesitant to open themselves up to the other. Not all of the author’s gambits work; a discovery of a mysterious box, buried in the sand, doesn’t really pay off, and some flashbacks may leave readers scratching their heads. But overall, this is an insightful look into one woman’s heart and mind.
A richly imagined literary exploration of life and love.