Friday, June 28, 2013


Ever hear of a guy by the name of Henry David Thoreau?
Author of Walden, and Civil Disobedience and many other philosophically laced writings on natural history and environmentalism, etc?
Advocate of the simple life -- as in, living in a cabin in the woods?
Of course you have.
But did you also know that on April 30, 1844 [a year before he hermeticized himself in the woods of Massachusetts to focus on his career as a writer] he made the mistake of striking a single match and burning down 300 acres of trees?
Yep. He is the "woodsburner" of John Pipkin's [2009] novel.
Let me begin by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which has all the potential of being as boring as watching branches turn to sticks, for a great majority of readers out there. For me it had the opposite effect -- but that's because I love well-done character sketches, and digressions in novels do not bother me much.
In a strictly linear sense, the entire 366 pages of this book take place really over that one-day period, April 30th, 1844. So, if you need a lot of plot to get you through the night, this may not be the book for you.
Thoreau and his friend Edward simply want to make a chowder of some freshly caught fish. It's a windy day, and once the fateful match is struck -- the flames take over. And so does Pipkin. 

The author digresses, but in an ingenious way [in my opinion]. He introduces us to a handful of diverse characters that will be profoundly affected by this out-of-control wildfire. We learn of their own personal histories and present situations -- and one by one they are all drawn to the inferno, either in a fight to lessen the damage [to put the damn thing out] or to re-adjust their lives [move on once it is extinguished].
For me, this book was what I call a "sleeper". And by that I mean it was better than I thought it would be, early on. But then again, almost any book that ends with an admirable character running off with the girl of his dreams is good enough for me!
[Ooops. Spoiler.]
Based on an actual incident in the life of Thoreau, Pipkin has really created something worthwhile and rewarding for the serious reader out there.
I would rate it at four entirely burnt trees out of five.


1 comment:

Stefanie said...

Oh this sounds good! I will definitely look for it at my library!