Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

            The writing is beautiful and a joy to read.  If for no other reason, this book deserves to be read for the craft and poetry imbedded in Ms. Hegland’s prose.  The story begins with a family of four that includes two daughters.  One of them, Seventeen-year-old Nellie, the younger of the two sisters is the protagonist and the story line unfolds through her experiences and perceptions.  Eva, who is older than Nellie by only a year, is initially only a backdrop but evolves into a more significant role as the plot progresses.

            After reading the book I found it difficult to decide whether it was an odyssey or a fable, and maybe it’s both.  The environment for the story and the motivation that drives the plot line is the total failure of civilization’s infrastructure.  The family lives in an undetermined wilderness area, thirty miles from the nearest town, Redwood, which is remarkably similar in description to Healdsburg the author’s hometown. 

            The story unfolds through a logical progression from problem through crises to climax and resolution.  The emotional content includes denial, bestiality, fear, loss, love, depression and happiness, portrayed as randomly as it occurs in real life.  We all grow up, traverse emotions similar to these, and then realize we are alone in ourselves and mostly we prevail by means of courage, resourcefulness and perseverance which are also in the story.

I used the verb ‘portrayed’ rather than ‘told’ intentionally, because to read this book is to live the story as it unfolds in your mind.  It is said that a good story creates a dream state for the reader and it was true for me with this book.  Half way through the book I woke one morning from an anxiety dream involving the dangers of living in the country as we do.  So I was living the book.  The author accomplished this by letting me experience events as they would occur and not as they might be told.

This is a story written from the first person perspective of a young woman and it is about the issues that she and her sister have as women.  I began to wonder as I read whether this was a book written for women or for everyone.  It does focus on abilities not usually required of women in today’s society.  However their obstacles in the story were universal.  A man might deal with them differently, but he would still have to deal with them.  We need to remember that protected young civilized women, who are products of a relatively affluent society would react much differently than other ages or the other gender, and so goes the story.  Furthermore, it is thought provoking to consider our exposure regardless of gender to a collapse of the infrastructure that we take for granted. 

Several things bothered me as I read.  What happens to the father is predicted fairly early, but I had to wait quite a while to learn what it was.  I also had a hard time tolerating the lack of information about the disaster, whatever it was.  For me, how I would react and what I did would depend to a large extent upon what was going on in the world.  And the absence of men for most of the book unbalanced the story for me, but that was probably because of my own gender.  Finally the ending was too flamboyant and illogical for me.  Although, I have to conclude that these criticisms disappear when the story is taken as a metaphorical fable.

I haven’t heard the name, Nellie used during my time in the 20th century.  And ballet dancers use Marlee to create a dance floor, not Mylar.  But these are really nits.

The writing in this book makes it a piece of art in my view.  That it raises more questions than it resolves only increases its value for me.  It’s not a lightweight story.  Reading it will engage some serious emotions. 


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