Sara's Reviews > All Over Creation

All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki
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May 22, 08

bookshelves: fiction
Recommended for: emerging environmentalists
Read in May, 2008

“Maybe that was the trick – to accept the responsibility and forgo the control. To love without expectation?” p. 410

Meet Yumi Fuller, whose aging parents Lloyd and Momoko run a seed propagation business on what used to be the family’s gigantic potato farm. Cass and Will Quinn are their lifetime neighbors who have taken over most of the acreage and all of the potato farming from the Fullers. Then there’s the Seeds of Revolution, a hippyish environmental activist group who cruise around in a Biodiesel-fueled Winnebago christened “Spudnik” doing radical demonstrations protesting genetically modified vegetables at supermarkets and summits across the country. And Frank Perdue, a restless foster teenager working at McDonalds who meets the Seeds when they stop to re-fuel on french fry oil.

Together they comprise most of the interesting and well-developed cast of characters in Ruth Ozeki’s 2003 novel, All Over Creation.

I enjoyed Ozeki’s previous novel, My Year of Meats, and although I found this book to have many similar qualities, I felt many of the plot points to be somewhat contrived. It is the kind of book where you can see plot lines being set up, like threads in a loom, stretching into the distance as the novel begins. Even though I was able to predict the resolution to many of the character’s conflicts within the first 100 pages, I still found the reading enjoyable for several reasons.

First, Ozeki throws in enough plot twists to make the journey interesting. Despite my being relatively sure of where the book would end up, Ozeki pulls more than one punch getting the reader there, which makes the read especially compelling after the turning point about ¾ of the way through the book. The middle of the book bogs a bit but keep going – the end if worth it. Ozeki also employs a shifting point of view. The plot follows the action as seen by various characters listed above, and is narrated alternately through first (Yumi) and third person limited narratives. While this does make the book more engaging, it may also be somewhat confusing for less sophisticated readers.

Ozeki also does a good job of painting full character portraits, at least for the main characters. I found myself connecting with at least three characters enough to cry as they faced tribulations in the book. The peripheral characters, however, often appear one-dimensional, placed strategically in the story like billboards, representing the different political and ethical perspectives on the central themes of the novel.

These themes are what make the story engaging and unique. Ozeki explores the universal human question of control: how much do we have in life? What is in our hands and what is controlled by God or nature? Ozeki frames these questions in the larger issue of farming, specifically potato farming in Idaho, as farmers struggling to make ends meet face off against groups concerned about genetically engineering pesticides into vegetables. Mix in the corporation that produces the GMO Nu-Life potato, as well as Lloyd and Momoko who preach about the open propagation of seeds, and you have quite an interesting political narrative that is especially timely as we seem to move into a “greener” age and the hope that humanity will grow in it's respect for the power of creation -- both in nature and in science.

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