Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Marrow Island is a neat little novel by Alexis Smith that takes one of the most interesting premises I've seen in a long time and runs with it. The plot revolves around the recovery from an earthquake in the Pacific Northwest that devastated Seattle and the Puget Sound area in the 1990's (it is a work of fiction). One of the islands in the Salish Sea had an oil refinery explode during the quake and was contaminated with toxins, and two decades later, a small colony of people has established themselves on the land, growing food and otherwise trying to make a go of it, in defiance of common sense and scientists. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that something is definitely not right there, and the novel kind of peters out in an inevitable end of cancers and sickness.
Thus the basic narrative. What makes the book fascinating are the subplots. The narrator has several unresolved traumas that she confronts during the novel--her father died in the refinery fire, her first love is now part of the colony, her current love is a park ranger fighting a dangerous fire that rages through the novel. Then there is the entire premise of the colonization--how does nature detoxify man-made disasters? The colonists are trying something called mycoremediation--the idea that certain fungi process and break down toxins and render the land poisoned useful and arable again. And finally, the question of whether any isolated, communal group exhibits cult behavior runs through the entire novel.
This is an excellent read, thought-provoking and well-constructed. It's one of the best books I've read this year.

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