by Michael Christie
It’s 2034 and Jake Greenwood is a storyteller and a liar, an overqualified tour guide babysitting ultra-rich vacationers in one of the world’s last remaining forests.
It’s 2008 and Liam Greenwood is a carpenter, fallen from a ladder and sprawled on his broken back, calling out from the concrete floor of an empty mansion.
It’s 1974 and Willow Greenwood is out of jail, free after being locked up for one of her endless series of environmental protests: attempts at atonement for the sins of her father’s once vast and violent timber empire.
It’s 1934 and Everett Greenwood is alone, as usual, in his maple syrup camp squat when he hears the cries of an abandoned infant and gets tangled up in the web of a crime that will cling to his family for decades.
And throughout, there are trees: thrumming a steady, silent pulse beneath Christie’s effortless sentences and working as a guiding metaphor for withering, weathering, and survival.
A shining, intricate clockwork of a novel, Greenwood is a rain-soaked and sun-dappled story of the bonds and breaking points of money and love, wood and blood—and the hopeful, impossible task of growing toward the light.
The book Greenwood was recently shortlisted for the 2023 Canada Reads competition for “One Book to Shift Your Perspective”. Reading as many of the 5 shortlisted books was my initial reason for choosing to read this book as it had not been on my radar.
Both Michael Christie’s previous books, Beggar’s Garden and If I Fall, If I Die, were longlisted for the Scotia Bank Giller Award and also won prestigious awards. This usually signals that the author’s writing will be competent and interesting.
Although Greenwood is 490 pages, it is well worth the time invested to read it. The plot line is a family saga where each chapter is set up as a different timeline which both progresses and recedes much like the rings of a tree. It reminds me of a mystery with each character’s life unravelled in a marvellous convoluted series of adventures and relationships.
On the back flap of the book, Claire Cameron (author of The Last Neanderthal) recommended Greenwood as a book that was so “completely absorbing” that I “had to cancel everything for this book because I couldn’t stop reading”. I completely agree. This is a fascinating story and the design of the book with fine tree sketches beginning each time frame and wood grain along the side of each page of the book is an artistic marvel. It’s a great read about the value of forests and family.
This is an outstanding Canadian book.