EVERGREEN by Rebecca Rasmussen -- "The imagery pops, the emotion ignites..."
It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that novels with natural settings are my ‘thing.’ The title of this book alone suggests an outdoorsy feel. The wonderful pine trees stamped on the book jacket, the bird … they speak volumes. Yet this book is SO much more than a novel with an outdoor setting filled with wondrous creatures, scents and sounds.
EVERGREEN by Rebecca Rasmussen is character-driven fiction at its best: a story of love, identity, tragedy, forgiveness and yearning. Spanning generations of two close-knit families from 1938 to 1972, it is a treasure. (And I will concur with others – if you loved The Snow Child, you will love this book as well. While it is similar is some ways, it also is quite different and so very lovely in its own right).
I thoroughly enjoyed Rasmussen’s debut, The Bird Sisters, but I loved Evergreen even more. She writes with such an assured style – one that is at once filled with simplicity yet also luxurious sophistication. For example: “…Lulu came marching through the forest and up to the cabin, her coonskin coat unbuttoned and flying behind her like a feral cape and her child flying in front of her to avoid being swallowed by it.”
The imagery in Evergreen pops, the emotion ignites, yet the prose is still as accessible as it is drink-worthy. To me, the author’s style is reminiscent of Louise Erdrich and Rachel Simon. The ease with which Rasmussen braids symbolism, theme, foreshadowing and metaphor into the story is admirable. Birds, articles of clothing, trees, light – they all come to mean so much more than their physical identity.
And perhaps this is one of my favorite aspects of the book: Through the sensibilities of the characters – Eveline, Emil, Hux, Lulu, Gunther, Naamah – all living in the wilderness of Minnesota, Rasmussen is able to subtly weave environmental themes throughout, avoiding a preachy affect. Somehow she presents such a balanced view of the tug and pull of humans on the natural world – highlighting human ignorance but also human respect for the outdoors and its inhabitants.
Yes, if you have an environmental conscience, this book will make you think (or have you saying aloud, like I did, “Yes. Yes. Yes.”) For instance, Hux takes note: “The second logging camp was more remote than the first. There were still forests that hadn’t been touched by the blade of a saw up here, a sight almost harder to bear than the forests that had. Hux was part of the destruction, but he didn’t ever use more of anything than he needed.”
Even the smallest details of the physical printing of this book wowed me: for Parts I-IV (each told through a different character’s point of view), the icons at that start of each chapter change. Maple leaves are used for one character, oak leaves for another, a fern for one, a flower for another… Loved this little detail!
This is one of my favorites of 2014. If mother-daughter, mother-son relationships interest you – if you’ve ever found joy in the singing of a sparrow or the hooting of an owl or the sound of wind whistling through a tree – if you want to better understand people with earthy connections, EVERGREEN by Rebecca Rasmussen is for you!
Read it! Read it!