A chance trip to a local wetland delivers new purpose—and passion—to the life of a long-suffering woman in LaConte’s (Life Rules, 2012, etc.) expansive debut novel set in the early 1990s.
While her husband lies dying, the nearly 60-year-old Hannah Walker finds herself drawn to the Afton Marches—a wild marshland she spots from the window of her spouse’s hospital room. The attraction seems incongruous at first, even to Hannah herself. For decades, her life has been controlled by her overbearing husband, Clay. A corporate lawyer, he persuaded Hannah to give up her volunteer work, and eventually, even her driver’s license and car, so that she could focus on tending to his needs. In her roles—first as a trophy wife and later as a well-heeled member of Connecticut’s country-club set—there was certainly no room for spur-of-the-moment explorations into a swamp “on the wrong side of town.” Yet as Clay’s life ebbs, Hannah’s blossoms through regular visits to the marshland. She meets a new love interest, Leslie Willoes, through her excursions and encourages her closest friends to make their own journeys to the secluded spot. When they learn that an upscale commercial development could destroy the land they love, they agree to fight to preserve the calm, quiet beauty of Afton Marches. But can their band of wetland warriors defeat the forces of corporate greed? And what would failure mean to the spirited Hannah? LaConte writes with a naturalist’s eye. Her passages about a preening heron, a band of hungry orioles, and a fish struggling for oxygen are an intoxicating blend of scientific observation and poetry. Effortless images cascade seductively over one another, drawing in the reader. But used repeatedly, the style turns self-indulgent. One of the book’s sentences includes a numbing 74 words. And while Hannah’s journey of self-discovery is noble and moving, it is also at points tedious, undermining the power of her transformation and the author’s attempts to address important environmental and sociological issues.
A stylish but overwrought first novel about a newly independent woman on an ecological mission.