Poet and novelist Matson (A Trick of Nature, 2000, etc.) explores the boundaries between activism and terrorism through the eyes of a privileged college student in the throes of first love.
The pampered, protected daughter of an aristocratic, politely liberal Boston lawyer—a single mother inseminated by a sperm-donor—Julie is a naïve Wellesley College sophomore when she falls madly in love with Neil, a Ph.D. candidate studying deforestation. In her first act of overt rebellion, Julie ignores her mother’s misgivings and accompanies Neil to Oregon for the summer to work with activists who are trying to thwart the logging industry. Of course, unable or unwilling to escape her sense of privilege, Julie does keep her trust-fund account handy. Mainly drawn to Oregon by the possibility of sex in the trees with Neil, Julie soon finds herself among young people who take their idealism very seriously. At first intimidated, then skeptical, Julie is drawn to the romanticism of Neil’s commitment. She remains besotted even as she recognizes that he is an ideologue who sees the necessity of terrorist acts for their shock value. Because she can draw, Julie is sent to the Wainwright Timber Company to sketch the plant’s layout. As a ruse, she applies for a job with the company and ends up working there for a month. While spying and stealing company documents for the activists, she gets to know and like her fellow Wainwright employees, even Mr. Wainwright himself. Her ambivalence and burgeoning skepticism deepen when the usually reserved Neil finally declares his love for her. After a bomb he’s planted at an SUV dealership injures a salesman, Julie finally bales out of the movement and returns to school without Neil. Two years later, when she reads that Wainwright Timber has been bombed, she feels guilt and fear.
The provocative issues raised sometimes get lost in the predictability of the romance and ho-hum characters.