No human relationship develops outside of its context. The bond between mother and son is influenced by the family’s economic or cultural circumstances. War forever alters the connection between father and daughter if the father or daughter does not return from the battlefield whole.
Robin MacArthur recognizes the cascading effects of a rapidly evolving planet in her novel, Heart Spring Mountain, and she approaches them in a poetic, almost contemplative way. She refers to the warming world as the deep background for an intimate, pastoral story of a young woman seeking her lost mother, returning to a rural landscape threatened by intense storms and a stalking environmental disaster.
Vale Wood, a dancer and bartender in New Orleans, gets a call saying her mother, Bonnie, is missing. The remnants of a hurricane have dropped an ocean of water on her family’s rural homestead, the namesake Heart Spring Mountain in Vermont. Arriving home after an eight-year estrangement and finding a familiar landscape in ruins, Vale explores relationships going back to Anglo-European ancestors who settled the family’s property in the early 19th century. MacArthur focuses most of her narrative on the connections among the women of Vale’s clan, including an elder suffering from dementia, an ex-hippie nostalgic for commune life, and an almost feral relative with a pet owl that can’t fly.
Author Robin MacArthur shows how to demonstrate climate change’s impact without the necessity of thrilling drama.
MacArthur’s prose is rich and sensual, with frequent references to the flora and fauna of the land around the Vermont farm where she lives. In her world, Vermont is rural only, with cities and even small towns as emotionally distant as Mars or Venus. Her characters have rich interior lives, though it seems the Wood family never reads anything other than angsty literature and listens only to Patti Page or Billie Holiday. The world of Heart Spring Mountain is compelling, but poverty is almost noble, and its negative effects go unexamined, even as we learn Vale’s mother is a heroin addict.
I’m interested in climate change as a narrative theme, and MacArthur shows how to demonstrate the process’ impact without the necessity of thrilling drama. The novel’s plot is thin and often predictable, but MacArthur is not trying to create the survival epic of a flooded New York in Kim Stanley Robinson‘s New York 2140 or the dystopian circus of Clare Vaye Watkins‘ Gold Fame Citrus. MacArthur’s approach is quiet and subtle, and much closer to the warming’s true effect on life.
Heart Spring Mountain isn’t about climate change or even its impact. Rather, the narrative takes place within climate change as a dynamic force shaping human history in ways we can’t even imagine, even as humanity’s story moves forward.
The publisher provided me a copy for review.