Thursday, July 2, 2020

Literally the Best Reviews: Greenwood

Greenwood - Michael Christie
Hogarth Publishing
528 Pages

Several years ago (2015) I read a book by a new author titled, If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie. Fast forward to February 2020 and there’s a new book by the same author. Greenwood is that book. The first book explored the relationship between mother and son, and was very well done. This time, the story takes place over four generations and explores the relationships between those generations against a backdrop of drastic climate change.

The story starts in 2038 with Jacinda (Jake) Greenwood working at a remote Canadian island where the world’s last old growth trees stand. A global blight, called The Withering, has obliterated the trees around the world, and wreaked havoc with dust storms and food production. The island is one of the last places one can go to breathe fresh air. For Jake, the island is sort of like coming home. It was purchased long before by her great grandfather, and later passed into conservancy for the trees by her grandmother.

We move back in time to 2008 as Liam Greenwood, Jake’s father, falls from scaffolding and severely injures himself. He thinks of his young daughter and her mother before falling back to memories of growing up with his hippie, militant environmentalist mother. Her disdain for her father’s timber and lumber empire does not pass to Liam. He sees the wood as a living, breathing thing that evolves under the imperfect touch of his hands. 

Moving back in time again, we find ourselves in 1974 and Willow Greenwood, mother of Liam, is fresh out of jail after one of her endless environmental protests. She feels she needs to make amends for her father’s ruthless clear cutting for his lumber empire. She tries to pass her very liberal ways to her son, although it does not root with him.

Back even further in time, we go to 1934 and Everett Greenwood is a hermit squatting on property when he comes across an infant hanging in a bag from one of his tapped trees. He saves her, and thus begins a narrative that haunts the family for the next century. Secrets are kept that could prove innocence, but silence will save the family fortune and business.

We finally get all the way back to a 1908 and a train crash where two young boys were the only survivors. Not knowing who their families were, they were taken in by the townspeople and handed off to a widow for their upbringing. It was a tough life for the two boys, taken in as brothers, although they were not related. No one even knew their surnames, until they started selling wood from the lot they were ensconced on. Bringing unseasoned wood, they became known as the “Green Wood Boys.”

Harris and Everett Greenwood make their separate ways after Everetts takes Harris’ place in the army for World War I. Harris, losing his eyesight, cannot perform his duties, so Everett takes his place and comes home a different man. Harris doesn’t even know that Everett is alive after the war until a man comes calling about a missing baby and a kidnapping. It’s then that all the secrets in the family could crash the empire that he had so carefully crafted.

Forward to 2038, Jake is learning more and more about her ancestry. Not everything she thought to be true can still be claimed as such. While she struggles with her own past, the trees that have stood silent sentinel over all the happenings of this family, and for far longer. The same deadly disease that killed off the rest of the trees in the world makes an appearance in the old growth of the remote island. Will they be able to save them, or will instant profit win out the day?

This novel is about the secrets of one family over more than a century. Do these people really know who they are, or are they simply filling out the roles expected of them by those around them? Can the pain of the truth outweigh the pain of the lies? And now knowing the truth, will she act upon it?

Michael Christie wrote a novel that moves and sways with the movements of the last dying trees of a forsaken planet. His human characters follow the same type of movements, moving and swaying with each event that unfolds through their actions. Ultimately, the story is about the human character and what makes each tick, and what their breaking points are. Christie’s finely crafted characters resonate with authenticity even across over a century of events. He captures each generation with its own voice and realism.

This book took a little longer to read than many other books of the same length. Christie’s intricate prose and tangled plot points over many decades is woven richly. It takes a little extra time to wade through the jungle of words. This makes it far greater than the sum of its pages. If you have some time to sit down and enjoy a book, Greenwood by MIchael Christie is the book for you. 

Craig Bacon cannot wait for the library to reopen. He’s down to one book from there, and he needs more books like this one to help pass the time.