Into the Forest

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Jean Hegland

GENRES:
Sci-Fi, Feminist, Nature

SUMMARY:
Eva and Nell are recently orphaned sisters who live alone in the woods in which they grew up. They have been severed from the outside world along with the rest of humanity in a post-holocaust world. There is no electricity, no phones, no cars, and no planes. They are left to fend for themselves in the acres surrounding their family home.

Through Nell's narrative and a series of flashbacks, we learn of the deaths of their parents and their lives before the loss of technology. Relying only on each other, they now must survive in a land for which they are anything but prepared. Over the long months, Nell and Eva go through a gambit of grief, depression, boredom, denial, and finally acceptance as they abandon ideals from their former life and embrace their new world within the forest.

RESPONSE:
Right from the beginning this novel had me completely engrossed. The premise is standard enough: Our technologically based world has destroyed itself. Our heroines must learn to survive in it. However, whereas other apocalyptic novels revolve around the circumstances causing the social meltdown or the struggle to rebuild a new developed society, 'Into the Forest' abandons these concepts and focuses instead on Nell and Eva and the few acres surrounding them. Hegland offers no explanation for the collapse of technology, only briefly hinting at war far away. And the ending, although happy enough, does not involve the electricity miraculously coming back on.

Into the Forest is a sci-fi novel only in the post-holocaust premise that allows its main characters to grow and explore their abilities and limitations. Yeah, I know it sounds like a boring character development story, but it is anything if not interesting. The entire story is narrated through Nell, an honest and initially self-centered teen. The other characters are seen through her eyes, including her sister Eva. Thus, the reader only glimpses certain aspects of the other characters. For example, their father is never referred to outside of Nell's experiences and thoughts. Such a strict viewpoint adds to the reality of the story and makes an seemingly farfetched situation frighteningly real.

Hegland's prose is absolutely breathtaking. I have to admit I hardly ever notice prose unless it's bad, but her writing was one of the first things I loved about this book. The descriptions of the forest are beautiful and conjured up nostalgic childhood images of when I used to play with ants and leaves with complete contentment (I wish that was all I needed for amusement now!). The gradually crumbling house and city are described in full detail down to the worms that surface in the hoarded flour. There is no "blanket of green grass" and "soft rays of the sun" in this book. Hegland avoids idealistic cliches and uses original and detailed description to portray a crumbling world and an emerging one. Her prose is comfortable and elegant; in fact, the incest scene that normally would have made my skin creep was written so simply and elegantly that I didn't even bat an eye.

And yeah, maybe there are a few events in the book that a bit predictable and convenient like Eli's appearance, the father's death, the rape, and the pregnancy, but it all falls into place darkly, beautifully and believably. Gee, I probably should have done a warning about spoilers there, huh?

It's got a feminist overtone what with the sisterly bonding, the parallel between nature and the feminine, and the nasty or distant male characters; but 'Into the Forest' should appeal to all readers with its universal theme of survival and environmental awareness.

POINT BLANK:
Screw Survivor and those other pseudo-survival TV programs. This book craps all over them. Read it.