On the Trail of an Underground America
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The author of Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager (2009) finds a rich subculture in mushroom hunters.

Mushrooms: one of those love-it-or-hate-it foods, up there with beets and anchovies. For Cook, mushrooms fall firmly in his love-it category. He opens with a declaration: “My obsession with fungi arrived like a sickness,” he writes. “It consumed me.” With that obsession driving, the author went out to find not just wild mushrooms, but the people who venture into forests and other secluded areas to find them. He met up with Doug, a hunter and self-proclaimed redneck with bad teeth, who acted as Cook’s guide to the mushroom-hunters subculture. With guidance from Doug, Cook rambled on from one hunting excursion to the next, all around the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Along the way, he met a full array of quirky, colorful characters—bearded mountain men, Laotian immigrants, and Jeremy Faber, whose company supplies foraged foods to high-end restaurateurs—but none of them are as well fleshed out as Doug. Overall, there’s not much narrative pull behind the book; Cook mostly seems to drift from one hunt to the next with little focus, and closing the story with the unexpected death of Faber’s former girlfriend feels tacked-on. Further, the author whipsaws between language so terse it reads like bad Hemingway (“The temperature was dropping. Soon it would snow in the high country. Som had a lot to think about”) and cringe-worthy purple prose—e.g., “Enveloping you like a cloud is the aroma and taste of a night of lovemaking — an earthy musk, a taste of sweetness and of sweat, a complexity that would make a wine snob blush.”

An unfocused backwoods ramble among people who forage for a living.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-345-53625-9
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2013


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