Beneath the Trees by Laurel Saville
This is the sequel to the excellent ‘North of Here’ but easily stands alone. It is an engaging and rewarding read.
Colden and her family live in the beautiful but challenging area of the Adirondacks in northern New York State. They love the place they live in and nurture a close sense of community with their far-flung neighbours. These are not the vacation folks who arrive to enjoy summer or Christmas week in their luxury cabins but the ones who, like them, endure the punishing weather and the demanding landscape all year round. The disadvantages are compensated for (more or less - it is a fine balance) firstly by the splendour and freedom that nature has so abundantly given in that area and secondly by that close connection of one person with another which can make or break life in the wilderness, or, indeed, anywhere.
Saville’s exploration of her characters’ need for relationship is profound and sensitive. Colden’s relationship with her father is beautifully depicted; she depends on him absolutely and he never lets her down. He is everything to her but, somehow, not quite enough. Her adoptive Mum is also a good friend, but the void left by Colden’s birth mother proves surprisingly deep, resting place of an anger which has subconsciously been eating at Colden for years. The potential for our closest relationships to wound as well as affirm us is further explored through Brayden, who has run away from a bad family situation. Drew - hotshot lawyer - is also struggling to deal with the ghosts of a relationship which should have been positive, but turned out to be negative.
The story is set amongst and propelled by the natural world - another good thing which can turn suddenly and surprisingly bad. Laurel Saville’s descriptions of its rawness, hostility and beauty are simply stunning. Landscape becomes much more than just a vivid setting, it drives the story forward, tests and illuminates the characters and also serves as a sort of metaphor for the self. The more Colden travels into the heart of the forest, the better she is forced to face and able to understand herself. It makes her to confront her limitations and confirms her in her strengths. She is independent and incredibly capable - but chronically lonely. Brayden, the young man hiding out in the forest, finds peace and safety there - he is more than able to subsist - but, like Colden, he comes to see that the wilderness cannot provide the one thing that, as humans, we all need - relationship.
The language, throughout, is simply soaring, evocative, poetic and wonderful.
More from Ms Saville soon, please!