Reviewer Karen Dahood : Karen lives in Tucson, AZ. After 35 years as a writer for businesses and nonprofits, she has turned to writing mysteries,the subtext of which addresses ageism, unpreparedness for aging, and America's wealth of experience and wisdom. Learn more about eldersleuth Sophie George at the Website Moxie Cosmos; Making Sense of Life Through Writing.
Author: J.D. Alt
Author: J.D. Alt
Attracted by the themes of this novel, and expecting an intellectually stimulating read, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself quickly absorbed by a lushly detailed love story, and then a thriller of heroic moral proportions. The plot employs history, mystery and two romances. It overlays timeless yearning for family ties with a fresh professional sense of purpose.
One of the romances occurs in the past; it prompts the story. The narrator, Charlie, has lived with his grandmother in North Carolina ever since his mother drowned when he was a year old. On his 18th birthday, he learns that he has a living father who only learned about him. Charles Robert has sent Charlie a letter inviting him to his home on Bainbridge Island, in Puget Sound. Having no other plans, Charlie ventures into a new life hosted by his mother’s wartime lover, a veteran of Vietnam, now an architect known as Charles McCormick, or “C.M.”. Hiding from authorities for his role in an attack on a napalm plant, C.M. has built an extraordinary structure for a fish camp. The other household members are the fishing guide, Gus, and his wife Louise, who keep the camp going, and Maggie, the daughter of C.M.’s deceased friend who owned the camp and supported the noble experiment in architecture.
The visual beauty of the novel’s setting is palpable as Charlie is introduced to the wilderness of trees and water and boulders; to the aesthetics and purpose of architecture; and to Maggie, expert in her environment but a risk-taking activist. The tension mounts when Charlie is challenged to present his father’s revolutionary ideas at a competition. These elements are skillfully layered to make a richly rewarding exploration of nature’s forces, capitalism, and human needs, raising the question: How long can man and nature coexist?
The fish camp is a wonderful stage. It is amusing to picture clients awestruck at the unwrapping of a packaged core for a new unit, then be treated to candlelight dinner featuring simple, local cuisine, grilled salmon, elk, tomatoes and onions, served with excellent wines. A Chinese delegation arrives, ostensibly to fish, but they are housing authority officials who have heard about the model. Their egotistical leader suggests an improvement to the design, an ancient architectural feature that becomes critical to the love story. Meanwhile, the local anti-environmentalists are tension-building sideshows. The main action is slow and subtle, in the evolving emotions of world-weary C.M., Charlie in his awakening, and Maggie, grieving, but feisty. These characters are all in a dance together toward healing. C.M.’s vision and patient wisdom, and Charlie’s humility bring them to the brink of unveiling the “enabling core” model to a committee looking for a way to replace Hope, Iowa, flooded beyond reclamation, with a utopian “New Hope.” This is where the idyll ends and reality kicks in.
J. D. Alt is an architect and urban planner who used “down time” during the market collapse to write about something close to what he does. He is the inventor of an affordable prefab module, HOMESEED. His fictional model for a sustainable community, with its democratic underpinnings and open-ended possibilities, will appeal to environmentalists, naturalists, and architects as an elegant solution to the high cost of housing. It will appeal to rugged outdoor types and romantics as a beautiful shack in the woods where one can escape so-called civilization. It is repeatedly described as a skyscraper on its side (with a punch to the nose of capitalism). This makes it understandable structurally and economically. Without the social politics, the fish camp model still appeals as a living thing, changeable according to need. It has movable parts, like a robot, or a giant Tinker Toy construction, hidden under leaves in the forest, kept alive by water and sunlight.
What is most admirable about this author’s talent is his restraint. He gradually coaxes out secrets that reveal his characters’ depth and breadth of experience. He harnesses the attraction between two young, energetic people until they mature. He gently grows the unexpected gift of love between father and son. It’s a spellbinding technique, like sunlight moving over Earth’s undeveloped rugged topography.
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