‘North Woods’ by Daniel Mason book review

By the time ghosts begin gathering in Daniel Mason’s “North Woods,” it’s too late to flee. You’re already rooted to this haunting, haunted novel a couple of homestead in western Massachusetts. Don’t be afraid: Go in the home.

I’ve been raving about Mason’s work since his gorgeous debut, “The Piano Tuner,” was printed greater than 20 years in the past whereas he was in medical college. He’s since gained fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, together with a Pushcart Prize, an O. Henry Prize and a National Magazine Award. In 2021, his first assortment of brief tales, “A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth,” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction.

And but Mason someway nonetheless feels at all times about to interrupt out. The literary gods are inscrutable — the book membership overlords much more so — however I’m praying you’ll take into account getting misplaced in “North Woods” this fall. Elegantly designed with pictures and illustrations, this can be a time-spanning, genre-blurring work of storytelling magic.

The novel begins some 400 years in the past with two naughty Pilgrims fleeing their settlement and hiding from troopers despatched out to pull them dwelling. “They were Nature’s wards now,” Mason writes. “Barefoot they ran through the forest … to the north woods.” They dare to marry themselves within the hole of an previous oak and swim bare within the brook. The younger man, an “ungodly” rake who “consorted with heathens,” hauls a flat stone out of the water and units it down in a clearing to mark the nook of their new dwelling. From that act of unlawful ardour and wild optimism arises an unlimited story that finally incorporates lives of generations to return.

Indeed, to learn “North Woods” is to undergo the candy sorrow of falling in love with recent residents solely to see them swept away by the passing seasons.

The silent areas between these tales articulate what the residents can’t. Their errant lives start locking collectively in a winding chain of unlikely historical past. And when the moonlight strikes excellent, it’s possible you’ll even see some previous house owner flit throughout the nook of a web page as soon as once more.

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But Mason isn’t simply passively watching the evolution of this website within the forest. Each chapter germinates its personal type whereas sending out tendrils that entwine beneath the floor of the novel. The Edenic story of the 2 Pilgrims, as an example, provides approach to a captivity narrative a couple of lady kidnapped by Indians. It’s an nameless confession smoldering with the stark language and mannered attitudes of the colonial period, and it climaxes with an act of violence that screams throughout the centuries.

The precision of Mason’s perspective entails a form of omniscience that feels equally microscopic and ethical. In an intercalary chapter, he follows the circuitous path of an apple that lands within the corpse of a murdered man. “One of the apple seeds,” he writes, “sheltered in the shattered rib cage, breaks its coat, drops a root into the soil, and lifts a pair of pale-green cotyledons. A shoot rises, thickens, seeks the bars of light above it, and gently parts the fifth and sixth ribs that once guarded the dead man’s meager heart.”

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As it seems, apples play such a central position within the story that one doesn’t open this book a lot as chew into it with a candy crunch. One of the foundational tales on the heart of “North Woods” begins with the arrival of a soldier from the French and Indian campaigns. Osgood’s siblings assume he’s loopy to maneuver out to western Massachusetts along with his younger daughters — there is one thing vaguely mad about his enthusiasm — however he stays sure: “God had willed me to raise an orchard.” He tromps round for miles on the lookout for simply the fitting tree, tasting the whole lot he can discover. “How profligate America was with her apples!” he declares. “Mine would be wild!”

Osgood preserves the previous stone cabin on his website and attaches it to his new saltbox home, painted “lemon yellow, with white shutters on the windows and a tall black door.” He’s satisfied that “history haunts him who does not honour it,” however as this novel unfolds, we’ll see that historical past haunts anybody, no matter whether or not they honor it or not.

The Earth turns, the apple crops swell and falter, the yellow home provides shelter to new residents, and “North Woods” retains forming and reforming this tableau of a spot that abides. As the a long time move, some mysteries are solved, whereas some tragedies develop extra mysterious. The solely constants are the land and Mason’s genius. (And the rain. It rains a lot in these pages you must preserve this book in a Ziploc bag of rice.)

As the chapters proceed, a narrative of sibling devotion slips into gothic trauma worthy of Flannery O’Connor. A collection of letters from a panorama painter suggests forbidden love with such aching subtlety that it evokes Henry James. A breezy column from a true-crime journal nails the periodical’s tone. And a lobotomist’s case notes remind us that Mason is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University.

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Given its composite construction and its devotion to timber, “North Woods” will remind some readers of the Pulitzer Prize-winning epic “The Overstory” from Richard Powers. But Mason has a lighter, extra mischievous contact whilst he considers comparable points concerning the destiny of our forests and ourselves. Not that there’s something spinoff about what the writer does right here, however as he floats by way of thrillers, a little bit of comedian noir, erotic paranormal fiction and different genres, it’s arduous to think about there may be something he can’t do.

Late within the novel, a wildflower scientist who’s completely cognizant of the disastrous results of local weather change wanders across the previous yellow farmhouse. “The only way to understand the world as something other than a tale of loss,” she thinks, “is to see it as a tale of change.” “North Woods” initiatives that revelatory imaginative and prescient so powerfully that you could’t assist however really feel the book evolve in your arms.

Ron Charles evaluations books and writes the Book Club newsletter for The Washington Post.

Random House. 372 pp. $28.

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