North Woods by Daniel Mason: A review

I finished reading this book almost three weeks ago and more books have been read and passed through my brain since then so I had to refer to the Goodreads synopsis of the book to refresh my memory of just what I read. I noted that at the time I finished it, I rated it with four stars, so in fact, I did enjoy it. 

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!

Comments

  1. I have too many books on my WaitingTo Be Read list - what is one more? This sounds interesting.

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    1. It was and I think you might enjoy it especially since it takes place more or less in your neck of the woods, so to speak.

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  2. Sounds interesting, though I don't always love a book that feels like a collection of short stories.

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    1. I'm not really a short story fan either but the fact that these interlinked stories were related to the history of this house made a difference for me.

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  3. You've just added two books to my Need to Read list. Both sound really good.

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  4. I've been thinking about reading this book. I like the idea of a novel told through stories, and I like the focus on our connections with the natural world.

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  5. I've seen this one around (and generally, have heard lots of good things about it), but haven't made an effort yet to get a copy. I think it's something totally unexplainable, even to me, about the cover that for some reason I find kind of off-putting. Probably just a style-thing, but I get the feeling I'm going to miss out on a good reading experience if I don't give it a chance. So...

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    1. I'm with you about the cover, Sam. I think it's just lame. That depiction of the cougar doesn't look like any cat I've ever seen, including a cougar. But since I read on Kindle, fortunately, covers aren't much of a barrier for me.

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  6. I was a bit on the fence about this novel but now your review has me curious. It been on a lot of Best Of Lists ... so I should give it a chance. I like how you talk about the connectedness of the place to the environment and one another.

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    1. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Not sure I'd rate it as one of my best reads of the year (which reminds me that I need to make that list!) but there was a lot to like about it.

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