Beguilingly structured, elegantly written: eco-apocalyptic but with hope that somehow we’ll make it.

GREENWOOD

Canadian novelist Christie (If I Fall, If I Die, 2015, etc.) takes us to the end of the world and shows how we got there.

“No one knows better than a dendrologist that it’s the forests that matter.” It’s 2038, and Jacinda “Jake” Greenwood is a guide in one of the last stands of old-growth forest in the world, a place to which wealthy eco-tourists, fleeing the dust storms and intense heat wrought by “the Great Withering” elsewhere, come to spend a few days in a tiny patch of green. One visitor, a former fiance named Silas, informs Jake, long an orphan, that she’s more than just an employee: The whole shebang belongs to her, and not just because she bears the same name as the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral to which those well-heeled pilgrims flock. No, it’s because she descends not from the Greenwoods but from a founder of the all-encompassing Holtcorp, owner of Greenwood and much else, by way of her grandmother Willow. (Note all the woody names.) Therein hangs a tale that Christie staircases his narrative down to reach, generation by generation, one in which Jake's antecedents love and admire the forests in which they dwell but still set into motion the machines that will one day ruin the Earth. Willow is a free-spirited hippie whom we meet in the early 1970s, newly indignant to discover that the man she supposes is her father has derived his considerable fortune from having felled more old-growth forest than “wind, woodpeckers, and God—put together.” But Willow—well, suffice it to say that the matter of her paternity isn’t at all clear-cut even if the forests her progenitors control have been. Christie skillfully teases out the details in a page-turner of a saga that complements sylvan books such as Sometimes a Great Notion and The Overstory, one that closes with Jake’s realization that, tangled lineage and all, a family is less a tree than “a collection of individuals pooling their resources through intertwined roots.”

Beguilingly structured, elegantly written: eco-apocalyptic but with hope that somehow we’ll make it.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-984822-00-0

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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