You get used to the razzle dazzle when you are so inundated with it. Every romance has to be epic, every chase scene has to stretch the bounds of physics, and every story has to be jam packed full of meaning, dialogue, or plot.
This book, Into the Forest, by Jean Hegland, was startling in its quiet. You come across very few books that are like that in these modern times and particularly not in the genre I write about, dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. This is not one of those books they will turn into a film full of fresh young actors about to embark on a cinematic dynasty. This is a book that may make many readers twitch, unable to settle down into the slow groove of its pacing. Compared to apocalyptic books where there is movement and violence, this has none of the former and only a dusting of the latter. This is a book where the world we know changes with a sigh, not a bang.
Two sisters, Nell and Eva, close enough in age to be more like twins than sisters, live in the countryside with their parents. Once so close, a small fissure in their closeness happens when Eva trains to be a dancer against the wishes of her mother, a former dancer herself. Nell feels a little lonely, so she sets her own high goal to get into Harvard. As Nell is home schooled at home, Eva journeys into the nearest town and sometimes as far as San Francisco loosen their bond. However, after their mother dies of cancer and their father becomes a grief stricken shell, they turn to each other again.
Is it their respective intense training regimes, their isolation in the countryside, or the shock of their mother’s death that makes them seem a little oblivious to the obvious signs that things in the outside world are not going so well, or does that just make them human? After all, don’t we all feel deep in our belly a sense of unease? Isn’t that what has drawn some of us to this genre. They are also immunized to the changes around them by the fact that their father is handy, they have a garden, and are far from populated areas when violence erupts after work stops, electricity is lost and people fall sick or hungry.
As teenage girls they are still fixated on the idea of college, career, and of course boys, well Nell is during the trips into town they make in her father’s car. A routine that started when they came into town to visit their mother in the hospital and that no one could break after she passed. Missing her mother and even her sister who spends hours in their in home dance studio, Nell tries to shake off this feelings as well as her unease, by partying in the town square and having a crush on Eli, that is until there is no more gas, meaning no more trips to town.
Out in the country without electricity Eva dances to a metronome rather than music, and Nell starts reading an encyclopedia page by page, so as not to let her learning slip when the electricity comes back and she goes off to Harvard. There is nothing in the dictionary that tells her how to handle things when her father is injured while doing chores, and nothing that will help when something unexpected happens to her sister, though it does offer her some practical information that helps them survive in the interim between what their life was and what they expect it will be again.
The only books I have ever come across in this genre that had this slow flow about a world turned upside down have been Life as We Knew It and Not a Drop to Drink. If you can appreciate sinking into a deep rhythm and reading a book without a lot of bells and whistles, a book that reminds us that our present has only been a blink of an eye compared to the thousands of years of our past, Into the Forest is one to read with a glass of tea.