Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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We are living the stuff of science fiction, at least of the more apocalyptic sort. Civilization—progress, industry, the ambient waste and resource-burning of our lives—has wrecked the planet and continues to destroy it. Certain scenarios are no longer merely plausible, they are assured: “floods . . . crop failures . . . hurricanes . . . drought . . . food prices going up . . . demonstrations, riots, wars,” to quote one laundry list from Berit Ellingsen’s book about the environment and the human mind within it.
Ellingsen is not interested in prophecy; this isn’t a book spelling out the coming wars over water or migration. Rather, she frames the problem in the broadest of strokes: “The scientists, the policy-makers, and the public have known about the destruction of the environment and the destabilizing of the climate system for years. The warning signs were there decades ago, but we kept on like it didn’t matter. We’re paying the price now, all of us. But it’s not too late to do something...” Therein lies both the novel’s title and its plot, though the real drama is internal.
Ellingsen has an interest in monasticism, of an Eastern sort. A Buddhist monk starving himself to death as a sort of penance for the collective “sickness of selfish desire and willful ignorance” of the world figures here. The protagonist, Brandon Minamoto, lives alone in the mountains with a monk-like remove. He has a manual treadmill and a connection to the fauna and flora of his place. He tells himself he’d like to be an astronaut, but it’s more likely he’ll join an armed movement to shut down—or at least stutter, stall—the technological self-destruction of the species. His decision on this could be climactic, but feels secondary to the focus on locale: the dirt and crawling things, the moss and water and smells of a specific plot of earth. It’s as if Minamoto were already an astronaut, seeing his bit of mountain with the eyes of an explorer. Indeed, it is this—the contemplative vein of a Wendell Berry—that commands this book, far more than the scaffolds of story on which such contemplation are hung. Minamoto “remembered warnings in the past of how bad the future would become if the emissions of greenhouse gases were not ceased or the use of fossil fuels not exchanged for renewable energy sources. That had not happened . . . so the troubling, uncertain future had become the volatile, menacing present.” Yet this book stands out for its portrayal of a present perceived, received, respected, and witnessed not as “menacing” but merely present—a monk’s view of place in the midst of a transitory storyline involving weapons and desire.
Official Berit Ellingsen Web Site
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