This installment: revisiting an old favorite from ’96 (f); a powerful mystery set in Australia (f); gardening with huge challenges (nf); and a life through the lens of near-death experiences (f).
Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
I recently watched the movie version (close but no cigar) which sent me back to the book to compare and contrast, as I often do. I read it in 1996 and it’s stayed with me iconically. Northern California. Increasing power outages until it’s clear the grid is broken for good. A father and two daughters struggle with ensuing hardships. Then he dies and they’re on their own as everything runs out and the house starts to crumble. As the title telegraphs, the woods becomes their precarious salvation, even with a newborn in tow. The theme is getting even closer to home these days. Very powerful.
Force of Nature by Jane Harper
Put five unprepared women into the wilderness—recipe for disaster. And indeed on a corporate retreat that’s what happens as they lose the trail and suffer from weather and depredation of supplies. One tries to get back on her own and never returns. Turns out there’s complex history among them—familial and old school connections—and these play out tragically. It doesn’t help that the corporation is already under investigation for scurrilous practices. A fascinating mystery.
Unearthed by Alexandra Risen
Subtitled Love, Acceptance, and Other Lessons from an Abandoned Garden. As a city girl, I’ve never gotten into the soil, but I love stories about overcoming challenges, and this one fills the bill beautifully. After Alex’s father dies, she and her husband Cam buy a house in Toronto on a huge piece of land abutting a park. At the bottom, an extraordinary structure, more temple than gazebo, that’s crumbling. They manage to restore it against the odds, a great struggle but very gratifying, as is this book. Interwoven, family history—her Ukrainian immigrant parents—and even unusual recipes.
I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell
Subtitled Seventeen Brushes with Death. Nothing like mortality to focus the mind, and this memoir is structured on all the times O’Farrell came close. Encephalitis as a child, near drownings, perilous childbirths, plane scares, a robbery, and more. Yet it’s completely full of life (not a smidgen of self-pity). Primarily based in Ireland but some far-flung episodes—she’s quite a traveler. I loved hanging out with her on the page and so glad she lived to tell the tales.
Back next week.