by Michael Christie
In the midst of the Great Depression in New Brunswick, Everett Greenwood lives simply in his tiny shack selling maple syrup harvested off the land he squats on. But his life gets upended when he finds an infant swaddled along with a journal in the forest, left for dead. When discovering that R. J. Holt, a rich and dangerous man, wants the baby and the book, Everett flees across the country in an attempt to deliver her to safety, but that’s only a piece of the story. Greenwood carries across more than a century exploring the impacts the actions of individuals have on future generations.
While such a broad focus may be an ambitious task for a story, the author keeps the individual pieces relatively simple, bringing them all together in a straightforward manner. I enjoyed the overall plot and pacing in the main story outlined above, although I disliked the heavy reliance on chance and coincidences throughout the novel. Major characters brim with personality throughout Greenwood; others, however, feel insubstantial––character traits occasionally even being superficially explained in order to serve a limited role in the plot shortly after such an explanation, ultimately breaking the cohesive flow of the story. While I’ve previously spoken about this, I’d like to attempt a better explanation through a fairly direct comparison that came to mind in this case. In Greenwood, as more time passes without results, Holt periodically issues vague threats to his employee charged with finding Everett, and, within close proximity, we’re given a reminder each time that Holt is scary. I’d argue that we could have avoided the necessity for such a reminder had something convinced us earlier in the book that Holt isn’t to be trifled with. To illustrate my point, contrast this against the character of Marsellus Wallace in the movie Pulp Fiction: Early rumours brought up in seemingly normal conversation make clear to the audience that the character is prepared to seriously harm someone over basically nothing. As a result, we automatically understand the gravity of multiple instances that he wouldn’t take kindly to later on without requiring a strong reminder.
Despite this, when the plot and characters come together, Greenwood does become emotionally charged, though the most engaging moments occurred when the author employed the lightest touch. Christie was definitely able to stir something in me, when he built to something effectively, and when he presented it without an underline––another concept I’ve discussed before. The problem was when the underline came, when it felt like the author was pointing to a moment and telling me I should be reacting strongly without earning that reaction.
So, the writing’s a bit of a mixed bag, although I liked it more than I didn’t. At its best, Greenwood is a very human reminder that things aren’t always easy, they aren’t always fair. Cruelty has always existed, but, no matter how hopeless things appear, we’ve been here before, and we’ve endured.