Dear CALYX followers,
After browsing around CALYX Journals, I decided to take a look at CALYX Books. I grabbed a few titles to bring home with me. I don’t know if I will read them all, but they sure look promising. I was really attracted to what the summaries on the back covers revealed because the books I picked all seem to revolve around ordinary people and the struggles inherent to the human condition. This is what I enjoy reading, and I found that there are many possibilities of identifying with various characters because their hopes, dilemmas and suffering are often shared with readers one way or another. Throughout my readings, I encountered characters whose inner thoughts mirrored mine and others who made me think about what kind of person I would become if I were in their situation. Then there were characters who were so different from me that it made me curious, and that’s when reading enabled me to observe other ways of life, other motivations, other struggles. In the end, it’s always a learning experience.
I just finished reading Jean Hegland’s “Into the Forest” and I loved how the author managed to make it easy for the reader to identify with her characters even though the setting is anything but ordinary (in a post-apocalyptic world and far from the city, two young sisters are trying to survive on their own). When I started reading, I was curious to know what exactly had happened to the world, but I soon realized that it was not the point: the post-apocalyptic setting mainly worked as a tool for Hegland. Since she had removed all the superficiality of life, she was left with a sense of bareness and was free to explore the core of human relationships. Indeed, Eva and Nell, the two sisters, only have each other for most of the book, allowing Hegland to let conflicts arise and depict the different stages of their resolution.
Although the beginning of the novel—with flashbacks and descriptions of what matters to the characters (Eva’s obsession with dancing, for instance)—shows the young women’s need to stick to what their life was like before the world collapsed, the two characters soon mature and discover a deep sense of self-reliance and acceptance. They also understand the importance of having some kind a female community to be part of, even if this community is only composed of two sisters. It is actually thanks to this sense of community that Nell and Eva manage to keep their heads above water. Although they have different ways of dealing with their situation, they do find commonalities and manage to create a balance that makes them a strong duo.
Indeed, after reclaiming her own body and her identity as a free woman thanks to Nell, Eva helps Nell reach self-reliance. To me, one of the main turning points of the novel happens when Eva tells her sister: “Like it or not, our life is here—together” (186). Through these words, Eva expresses her desire to stop waiting for her old lifestyle to miraculously reappear. She voices her need to stop being passive and to start creating her own destiny with whatever tools she has left—which actually are a lot more tools than it seems. Perhaps, instead of being representative of danger, “the blackness framed by the opened door” (189) could become synonymous with both the reassuring presence of Mother Nature and a blank slate full of possibilities. On this slate, the sisters could write their new life and make up their own stories while experiencing a beautiful sense of letting go.
I really enjoyed this novel; it always kept me engaged and curious, and it made me think about all the things I take for granted in my everyday life. It also surprised me and taught me many things. I can only encourage you to read it too!
Until next time,
My views do not necessarily represent those of CALYX