I’ve been reading a lot lately, and posting a little less. This is mainly because my roommate has sorted out a stack of books to sell off, and she has been kind enough to let me raid them first to see if there are ones that I want to read. And there were. Several.
Into the Forest, by Jean Hegland, was one of the ones I’ve read lately. It is not really a tale about the breakdown of society in the U.S., but more about how two young sisters survive after all the modern conveniences, entertainments, and safeties are gradually lost to them. The reason for the breakdown is a little unclear, but that seems very in keeping with the breakdown in communication systems. The limited understanding of the ‘why’ seems to fit well with the characters and how focused they are on their own personal goals for the future while the societal structures are starting to crumble.
The writing is lush with detail. Everything seemed to be told in a way that seems very native to how I normally think: rather than a strict chronological organization, the tale was told with current events sparking rememberance, and how such things influenced current words and actions. Everything about the book seemed very organic and natural, which fit well with the themes of the book. I do recognize that some readers have problems with stories that are told in this nonlinear fashion, so if you are one of them, you may not care for this book very much. I enjoyed it though.
I received a warning from my roommate about this book and something it contains, and I think it distracted me a little bit from the journey through the book. There were many parts in the book where I was confused because what was happening didn’t seem to fit with where I had the expectation that it would head from what my roommate said. I think the book would be better if I hadn’t had that particular expectation set up as a distraction, but at the same time I think it is important to share for potential readers who are really sensitive to certain topics coming up in books. In the interest of not giving spoilers for everyone, I will hide the info behind a cut.
I was warned in advance that the book involves incest. It did not turn out to be a main focus in the novel, which is part of why I got confused at times when the novel didn’t seem to be heading down that path despite my roommate’s warning. I would actually say that there is a bigger focus on rape (and fear of it) through the book, which (although it seems sad that this is the case) seems to be a very appropriate fear for two young women to have when living on their own after the breakdown of society. To me it seemed that the incestuous sexual relationship was confined to a single scene in the book, and that the focus was still not on some kind of forbidden love incest thing, but rather that the scene was still focused on rape and its aftermath.
I guess after knowing enough people that go through this (including myself), the scene seemed reasonable to me in the context of the rest of the novel, so it seems misleading to me to give a warning about incest without explaining the context. To me, the scene was about relearning to love one’s body after the feelings of disassociation and anger at one’s own body that occur after a rape. Sometimes it does take a sexual encounter under safe circumstances where someone can experience the pleasure their own body is capable of as part of the healing process to relearn how to inhabit their body again after experiencing such a horrible violation. For a lot of women this happens in the context of a relationship with a new partner. In this case, the sisters are extremely isolated socially, and it would have ruined a lot about the novel to try to bring in some new character for the violated party to have fallen in love with and faced her fears with as she learned to reconnect with her body. Instead, she has a drunken encounter with the one person in her life that she trusts to be caring. This incident helps her to reconnect with herself, but is not something that continues after the booze wears off. Still, if the idea of incest is enough to make you want to squick and throw the book down regardless of the context, you may not want to pick this book up to begin with.