Lyrical evocations of nature clash with shocking revelations of human nature in this coming-of-age story set in and around the deep woods of western Oregon in the 1990s.
At the age of 35, Henry Fielder runs into a former lover who persuades him to write down the events that occurred when he was 15, so except for this brief framing device, the novel is a lengthy flashback to Henry’s adolescence. It was not a happy time, for Henry’s mother had recently died of cancer and his father dealt with this loss through anger and physical abuse. Henry’s one refuge was the forest, and the “gift” of the title refers to his feeling at one with the flora and fauna of the natural world. But in the mid-'90s, feelings ran high about the fate of this world. Loggers want to thin the old growth forests (one T-shirt reads “Cream of Spotted Owl Soup”), and environmental activists move in to try to prevent this culling from happening. Henry meets Cart and Josie, two of these activists (or “enviros,” as loggers refer to them), and they start to sway Henry’s opinion about which is the right side to be on. After a particularly traumatic incident involving Henry’s father, an earthquake and storm cause tremendous damage. Henry takes off for several days alone in the woods and comes across a commune, the Sweet Grass Confederacy, where he finds a sympathetic hearing for what is becoming an overwhelming emotional and psychological situation. Throughout the novel Daniel emphasizes Henry’s ambivalence about his life, especially his love for his mother versus his fear of and contempt for his father.
An insightful though rambling stroll through the wilderness of adolescence and the Oregon woods.