I have not been able to read very quickly for a long time. Between brain fog from going off a medication and brain fog from *gestures around* all this, my mind can rarely sit still long enough to stay motivated with a book for any sort of marathon session. Michael Christie has figured out the antidote, at least for me, with his tightly packed, well plotted and bracing book about four generations of the Greenwood family. It caused me to reflect on my own long family history in this country, to consider the things I do and don’t know for certain about my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, and to question what I want for any future branches I might add to my family tree.
We begin in 2038, with Jake Greenwood, living on the remote British Columbia island of Greenwood in a secluded ecotourist area known as the Cathedral. Trees have died out in a mass extinction known as The Withering, and the PhD. holding dendrologist is now trying to eek out a living as a tour guide to fend off debt-collection and avoid living on the dust ravaged mainland. She slowly learns that her last name is not a coincidence, and she is in fact closely and intimately related to the island.
The book unfolds like the rings of a tree, sending us from the outer bark of Jake’s experiences in what we think of as the future, back to her father Liam in 2008, where he’s working as a fine carpenter fighting an opioid addiction. Still further back we go to Willow, and Jake’s grandmother, to 1974, as she goes to pick-up her uncle from jail. Then back further, to Everett and Harris Greenwood, the family patriarchs, and we follow the epic journey Everett makes across Canada to save a baby as Harris lives out life as a Depression-era industrialist destroying the forests of Canada. Eventually, we go back even a little further, to 1910-1920, as we learn how Everett and Harris came to be seen in the city of Kingston by the locals who find them in a train wreck.
Every past and future of the Greenwood clan is deepened as we go back in time, and then, once Everett and Harris’ journey is explained, head back into the future, revisiting 1974, 2008 and 2038 to see how their counterparts fair with the discovery of their own genealogy. Willow lives to rebel against her wealth as the daughter of an industrialist, Liam lives to find stability and turns the very trees her mother devotes her life to protecting into products and art as a carpenter, and Jake struggles to find a sense of place after all her intellectual pursuits are destroyed by powers beyond her control. Each family member must reckon with how the environment has shaped their lives, how they’ve found meaning, wealth and loss because of the trees, and ask if their mutual draw towards a life working with and for lumber is some sort of fated genetic predisposition, or just a natural part of being human.
I managed to finish this in two sessions of about 5 hours each, and enjoyed every second of it. Because I wanted to know about Jake’s mystery, I was motivated to learn about Liam, Willow, Everett and Harris too, and once I knew about them, jumping forward in time made me miss the long-gone family members as they dropped out of existence. Poignant, reflective, and engaging, this book was everything I didn’t know I was looking for.