Lisa's Reviews > Into the Forest

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
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's review
May 16, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: post-apocalyptic, sustainability
Read from May 26 to 28, 2011

** spoiler alert ** I sped through this and, as a number of others said, loved the first half. I think the story ultimately fails, but not for the reasons I read in others' reviews.

OK, I was put off by the sisters making love -- but I could easily overlook that. I figured it might just as well be explained by their isolation and that the phrase "making love" might be an expression of their natural, actual, familial love. Also, it was an incident, not a lifestyle -- they didn't go on to create an incest-based relationship, and it took place clearly in service of healing the rape, something I could understand. Also, it happened in the book at a place where a lot of re-defining was going on -- it seemed like another instance where Nell & Eva are questioning the foundations of their western/techno culture. Not a big deal and not a central plot point.

What made me dislike the trajectory of the book, its premise and its conclusion was that everything takes place in the absence of community of any kind. In the long run, it's another "arming & farming" story, where the protagonists (in isolation) farm their 30 acres, magically having previously acquired everything they could possibly need, and where everyone they encounter is an enemy and their security depends on their guns. So, naturally, when it comes time to harvest acorns, they have eight 50-gallon trash cans in which to store them. When they want to dry tomatoes, they have "extra" screen doors on which to do so. They perform inventories of the house, and the dad is described multiple times as a hoarder, to explain away this aspect of the story.

OK, it's not that it's impossible--we often do have tons of excess stuff in our homes & lives. It's the unquestioned American "given" that we can be totally self-sufficient and don't need anybody else. I think the people who try to do that in any future apocalypse are the people who end up dead because we are pack animals -- we need the pack to survive. We are social creatures and nobody is able to provide for all of our needs in the absence of the group.

So I spent the last half of the book waiting for Nell and Eva to find a community of SOME kind. Their one foray into town revealed a bunch of individuals who had all retreated alone into their homes, devolving into distrustful and isolated families, or fled, or died, or went mad. The research actually doesn't support this prevalent fear, by the way -- instead, in a crisis, people pull together and help each other. We depend on others to fill in for us in all the places where we didn't prepare. And you could just never have enough bullets if everyone is met as an enemy and rapist.

I did love the way that Nell became a part of the forest itself and came into community with IT, if not with other people. I think that falling in love with place and the blossoming spirituality that Hegland envisions was beautifully written. But I think that you get learning and intimacy with your environment from a community of expertise and knowledge, not to mention years of study, not from one volume of Native Plants of California. When I think back on the years I've put into studying herbal medicine and learning about native medicinals -- classes and mentors and about 25 well-thumbed herbals -- well, I'm a little insulted that Hegland has teenage Nell learning it all in about 6 months. Good on you, Nell.

So (to just completely wallow in spoilers), when they decided to burn the house -- well, I understood that was supposed to be Nell & Eva's ultimate expression of union with the forest. But I think the way it was presented was ridiculous -- as an impulsive decision -- and a major sub-goal was one of hiding from enemies in the forest. A premise, I think, the Forest itself would reject. And no sane people would destroy the gold mine of resources that house obviously contained!

I think this story, viewed on the level of an allegory of woman re-integrating with her environment, has many positive aspects, but as a novel is unbelievable and unsatisfactory, with action that is far too condensed and containing major holes.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Paula Loved this book!

message 2: by Lynn (new)

Lynn I haven't read this yet, but I thoroughly enjoyed the righteous indignation in your review! :)

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