Sunday, June 05, 2016

Into the Forest

After I saw a trailer for Into the Forest and saw it was based on the "best selling novel" by Jean Hegland, I picked up a copy, always eager to read 1996's post-apocalyptic fiction.  In Into the Forest, you never really learn what event has caused the electricity to go out and all forms of government and communication to cease.  Nell and Eva, who live 30 miles from the nearest town in Northern California and were home-schooled, were already pretty separated from the rest of humanity when the lights are on, but when the power goes out, even their small connections are lost.

At first the sisters and their father subsist on the supplies they were able to build up from town and can from their garden, and as they run out of gas they enter a kind of fugue state of inertia and confusion, waiting for things to return to normal, waiting to be rescued.   

The girls are sort of living like the people in the really wonderful TV show, Last Man on Earth, where everyone is trying to desperately hold on to the society they knew before - maintaining homes, and standing around kitchen islands as if their refrigerators are still cold. Part of what makes that show so funny - going to the grocery and walking the aisles with a cart, or going to a bar to play pool, like everything is normal - is that we probably would do exactly that, as long as we could.

As it becomes evident that no rescue is coming, the girls slowly come to the realization that they've got to learn to fend for themselves.  The forest, on whose edge their house sits, was their childhood playground, but also dangerous - every time they went out, their mother would tell them not to eat anything.  It takes about a year for the girls to discover how much food and medicine is available in the forest. Hegland does a good job of drawing the reader into that realization, or perhaps I'm also so focused on sustenance coming from a store, that I also didn't consider all the food that could be had from the forest, and much better than the old canned vegetables the girls are eating.  For example, the girls tear apart tea bags to eek out a cup of tea every night, and when the tea runs out, they drink hot water.  It takes them so long to think of brewing the herbs in the forest into their tea.  It reminded me of this Louis CK joke where God is chastising man about working, and Man's like, "I need to buy food" and God's like, "There's food EVERYWHERE."

Into the Forest becomes really interesting when it dawns on the girls that whether or not the power comes back on, and it probably won't, the hopes and dreams they had then are no longer relevant to their lives - they become new-born when they enter the forest.

For the most part, I was really captivated by this book, I found a lot of similarities between it and The Parable of the Sower, another Northern Cal fave. I saw it compared to The Handmaid's Tale in a few places but it is not in any way similar to that great classic, aside from the post-apocalypse, whatever it was.  I wasn't crazy about (mini-spoiler) the fact that it ends with a baby, which is boring as hell and apparently the only way anyone knows how to end a story these days).  And, in order to avoid more spoilers, I'll simply mention that some weird-ass, *trigger warning stuff* happens that almost made me put the book down for good.

"What an act of faith and luck it is to pluck and taste  a little green leaf. With Eva standing beside me and our mother's warnings buzzing in my brain, I felt as though I were re-creating the history of humankind as I bent, picked a leaf, brushed a delicate coating of dust from it's surface, and took a nibble, so tentatively I think I expected it to burn my lips. But it had a cool, delicate, clean taste. It tasted sour and green, like chlorophyll, pickles, the evening air. It was a little tough, almost like lettuce that's bolted - but fresher, more alive."

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