Into the Forest

Into the Forest

author: Jean Hegland

name: Steev

average rating: 3.79

book published: 1996

rating: 5

read at: 2013/04/04

date added: 2013/04/05

shelves: after-the-fall, own-it

I'm being generous to give this book 5 stars, but I'll qualify that by saying that for the most part I'm rewarding it for its accuracy. As someone interested in "end of civilization" stories, that's a big plus. The writing isn't particularly artful or groundbreaking, and it's not a piece of formally innovative literature. But, the writing also isn't terrible, and the female narrative point-of-view is, I think, very realistic (probably because the author is female). I've read way too many works of speculative fiction that totally botch the female perspective (in my humble, male, opinion).

The atmosphere of the novel is introspective and moody, as the diary of a teenage girl raised in a cabin in the woods would be. The story keeps its background cleverly vague, but what details there are are very plausible - we never find out exactly why American industrial society collapses, things just gradually fall apart and get worse and worse. The electricity starts going off more and more often and for longer periods and eventually for good, the radio stations gradually stop broadcasting, rumors of food riots and plagues are heard, but there's no specifics, which is both realistic - in that a 17 year old homeschooled girl might not be carefully tracking the geopolitical situation - and very smart for a writing strategy, because the book doesn't seem dated (in the mid-90s when this was written, I forget the exact doomsday fears, but they were certainly a little different than today's).

So the book doesn't concern itself with the big picture. Just with the little day-to-day events and choices at a little northern California house in the woods, where two parents have died and the daughters have to figure out how to live, with no electricity, no gas, and dwindling food supplies. It's not a scary, gripping action thriller like "The Road," but Hegland provides some enjoyable suspense just from getting us to wonder whether the forest fire will come closer, or whether the sister will ever get to dance to music again, or whether the tomatoes will set fruit. It's a story of interior states, yearnings, small but vital things learned about medicinal herbs and the habits of wild boars. It's a story of how things will likely happen, for at least some people (the lucky people, probably), someday, within the next 5 to 30 years - whenever the lights really finally go out. If you want to be intelligently spooked into teaching yourself how to garden and make your own candles, this might be a good idea.