An environmentalist deals with family conflict and moral dilemmas when she takes over a firm dedicated to representing polluters.
Presson (The Broker, 2015) opens this novel with the reading of Robert Reed’s will, which leaves his public relations firm, built to advocate for logging operations and oil companies, to his environmental activist daughter, Roberta. Flashbacks reveal the company’s founding in the 1960s and Roberta’s evolution as an environmentalist, culminating in her chaining herself to a tree about to be cut down by one of her father’s clients. The narrative returns to the mid-’90s as Roberta, though reluctant, settles into her role as CEO; contends with her manipulative cousin David, who had hoped to inherit the job himself; and works to reconcile her ideals with the firm’s history. The conflict between environmentalism and pragmatism comes to a head following a massive oil spill. Roberta travels to the site of the disaster in a road trip that echoes a similar drive that transformed her life a decade earlier, and she tries to find the strength to follow her conscience. Will she triumph professionally and deal with unresolved personal conflicts as well? An appendix provides further information on the ecological topics addressed in the novel as well as an extensive timeline of the environmental movement. While Roberta is the book’s central character, the supporting cast provides an intricate and well-developed backdrop that keeps the story from becoming overpowered by its message-driven plot. Presson expertly establishes the book’s ’90s setting, from reminders that recycling bins were once uncommon on street corners to cameo appearances by political figures of the day, like Angela Merkel’s turn as a minor government bureaucrat. The volume’s structure is less polished, with many abrupt chapter transitions, overly long asides exploring the history of characters and events, and scenes featuring a Buddhist monk that open each section of the work, providing a spiritual foundation that does not integrate thoroughly with the rest of the tale.
An impassioned and enjoyable, though sometimes choppy, novel of activism, conscience, and family, propelled by a message without becoming overwhelmed by it.