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THE NATURE BOOK by Tom Comitta Kirkus Star


by Tom Comitta

Pub Date: March 14th, 2023
ISBN: 9781566896634
Publisher: Coffee House

A magnum opus about the planet using only found text.

In a preface, Comitta describes their methodology for creating this dizzying environmental collage: “I have gathered nature descriptions from three hundred novels and arranged them into a single novel.” At the end, Comitta lists the 300 novels they scavenge, which range from Philip K. Dick’s Maze of Death to William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! The book is divided into four parts along thematic lines—“The Four Seasons,” “The Deep Blue Sea,” “The Void,” and “The Endless Summer.” Initially, the descriptions of the natural world read like a kind of Creation story: “At about the same time, the days grew short and the nights grew long. The light a little less each time. Dark at half past seven. Dark at quarter past seven, dark at seven.” Occasionally, these scenes of nature are punctuated by conflict: sometimes conflict between animals, such as a beaver and an otter, while at other times the environment itself turns hostile—an early sequence in which a storm leaves several pheasants injured or dead is especially haunting. This is also, notably, a landscape without humans. The narrative voice is both omniscient and prone to metaphor, as in this evocative description of the onset of winter: “It was happening again: the end of the world.” Footnotes change the tone and allow for moments of wry humor: “The wolves were bad that winter, and everyone knew it.” This novel sometimes feels like a work of installation art, and Comitta’s author’s note describing their methodology in assembling it is fascinating, revealing the patterns and processes underlying the book.

A dynamic and singular reading experience.