North Woods by Daniel Mason: A review
The book tells the story of a house in the north woods of the title and of the people who inhabited it through many decades. The woods are located in western Massachusetts and the first inhabitants are a Pilgrim couple who had fled the rigid strictures of their society. The novel then proceeds through twelve interlinked stories of that first couple and all the residents that followed.
Those residents include an English soldier who abandons the battlefield to raise apples; a pair of spinster twins; a crime reporter; a lovelorn painter; a conman; and yes, even that panther that appears on the cover. Their stories were a bit uneven in my estimation. I enjoyed some more than others. My favorites were probably the spinster twins and the painter, as well as the apple-raiser.
Daniel Mason's descriptions of Nature were really my favorite parts of the book. I loved how he explored the changes that came to the woods as the climate changed and pine trees began to replace some of the native hardwoods. He also has a talent for making the case for how we are connected to our environment and to one another. Moreover, those connections exist through time, space, and language and are undeniable and unbreakable.
The book reminded me in some ways of Richard Powers' The Overstory and that is high praise from me. I hope Mason will produce more works in this vein. I'd certainly be there to read them!