My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Eva & Nell are two sisters trying to survive in their moldering house in the Northern California woods after a series of apocalyptic events. Civilization has collapsed due to epidemics, resource shortages, territorial conflicts & a lack of leadership. Both their parents are dead and together the two sisters try to relearn the basics of survival from the ruins of their former modern conveniences. After many disagreements & reconciliations on how best to continue living, they leave behind their home & embrace a new life living in the forest. Think No Book but the World crossed with Island of the Blue Dolphins.
I picked this book up along with Daughters of the North & compared to the other novel, this story has some more spark to it. The sisters’ relationship is given primary focus & the outside characters they meet put the changing dynamic between the two in well-defined contrast. The story also takes the Rousseau-ean idea that the world teaches us what we need to know to a specific conclusion. (Or at least when we have plenty of reference books to replace the natural history of previous generations who lived in concert with the land.)
While there are apocalyptic elements to Hegland’s story I suspect she had a specific goal of reaching a hopeful future through feminine nurturing. On one hand, I appreciate seeing the story move from dytopia to utopia & the approach is an interesting contrast to something like The Road. But on the other hand, the threat of the outside world & how its various social problems might disrupt the sisters’ isolation is often vague and not an effective factor.
In general, “Forest” is elegaic but becomes predictable–there is so much emphasis on separation & reconciliation that it soon became clear that any problem between the sisters would be fixed, lowering the stakes. While there are problems that the sisters must overcome, like food shortage, by the halfway point of the novel there are never any true fatal consequences as the pair try to puzzle out their solutions. A fair read & a nice enough work of speculative fiction, but not something that readers must immediately pick up.