Debut author Lane’s account of her lifelong mission to save Perdido Bay recalls how a public environmental issue along the border of Florida and Alabama became personal.
After the author, a marine biologist, married her husband in the mid-1970s, they moved to an undeveloped area of Florida. Perdido Bay grew on Lane, the same way that the dampness of a humid Southern summer eventually feels like home to out-of-towners. They happily raised five children in the wild, living waters of the bay until, one day, the water rolled in black and scummy, with dead fish floating in eerie-looking foam. The marsh clams that once covered the bottom of the bay, with which her children once played, were all dead. This apocalyptic scene was the catalyst for Lane and her husband, along with 500 other members of the community of nearby Lillian, Alabama, to embark on a decade-spanning fight against the Champion paper mill that was allegedly polluting the water. An account of corporate greed and manipulation, bureaucratic chaos, and political self-interest as well as a ton of research follow in Lane’s incredibly detailed chronicle. What immediately distinguishes this book is the author’s surprisingly woeful tone: “For over 30 years, I have fought to save Perdido Bay, with small victories here and there, but it is still dying,” she writes in a prologue. But although her thorough research and technical detail will likely be helpful to fellow environmentalists and scientists, they don’t have the intimacy and warmth that’s evident in her descriptions of the region, her family, and the personalities that constituted the Perdido Bay Environmental Association. She does sprinkle a sense of foreboding throughout, and some particularly meaty details liven up the book, such as her realization that a local U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientist, who’d helped her group at their first meeting, had been mysteriously “transferred.” But her divergence between personal, passionate memoir and technical, scientific chronicle weakens the book’s overall potency.
A tale that clearly illuminates the author’s passion even if the narrative sometimes tends toward dry detail.