Cover image for Greenwood : a novel
Greenwood : a novel
1st U.S. ed.
Physical Description:
504 pages : illustration ; 25 cm.
It's 2034 and Jake Greenwood is a storyteller and a liar, an overqualified tour guide babysitting ultra-rich vacationers in one of the world's last remaining forests. It's 2008 and Liam Greenwood is a carpenter, fallen from a ladder and sprawled on his broken back, calling out from the concrete floor of an empty mansion. It's 1974 and Willow Greenwood is out of jail, free after being locked up for one of her endless series of environmental protests: attempts at atonement for the sins of her father's once vast and violent timber empire. It's 1934 and Everett Greenwood is alone, as usual, in his maple syrup camp squat when he hears the cries of an abandoned infant and gets tangled up in the web of a crime that will cling to his family for decades. And throughout, there are trees: thrumming a steady, silent pulse beneath Christie's effortless sentences and working as a guiding metaphor for withering, weathering, and survival. --


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A magnificent generational saga that charts a family's rise and fall, its secrets and inherited crimes, from one of Canada's most acclaimed novelists

Longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize * "A rugged, riveting novel . . . This superb family saga will satisfy fans of Richard Powers's The Overstory ."-- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"There are plenty of visionary moments laced into [Christie's] shape-shifting narrative. . . . Greenwood penetrates to the core of things."-- The New York Times Book Review

It's 2038 and Jacinda (Jake) Greenwood is a storyteller and a liar, an overqualified tour guide babysitting ultra-rich vacationers in one of the world's last remaining forests. It's 2008 and Liam Greenwood is a carpenter, sprawled on his back after a workplace fall, calling out from the concrete floor of an empty mansion. It's 1974 and Willow Greenwood is out of jail, free after being locked up for one of her endless series of environmental protests: attempts at atonement for the sins of her father's once vast and violent timber empire. It's 1934 and Everett Greenwood is alone, as usual, in his maple-syrup camp squat, when he hears the cries of an abandoned infant and gets tangled up in the web of a crime, secrets, and betrayal that will cling to his family for decades.

And throughout, there are trees: a steady, silent pulse thrumming beneath Christie's effortless sentences, working as a guiding metaphor for withering, weathering, and survival. A shining, intricate clockwork of a novel, Greenwood is a rain-soaked and sun-dappled story of the bonds and breaking points of money and love, wood, and blood--and the hopeful, impossible task of growing toward the light.

Author Notes

Michael Christie is the author of the novel If I Fall, If I Die, which was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Kirkus Prize and selected as a New York Times Editors' Choice. His linked collection of stories, The Beggar's Garden , was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, shortlisted for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, and won the City of Vancouver Book Award. His essays and book reviews have appeared in The New York Times , The Washington Post , and The Globe and Mail . A former carpenter and homeless-shelter worker, Christie divides his time between Victoria and Galiano Island, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and two sons in a timber-frame house that he built himself.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Christie's rugged, riveting novel (after If I Fall, If I Die) entwines a family's rising and falling fortunes with Canada's dwindling old-growth forests. In a frightening, nearly treeless 2038, 33-year-old dendrologist Jacinda "Jake" Greenwood guides tourists on a British Columbia island where a rare forest withstood the global environmental disaster and ensuing economic collapse known as the Great Withering. While Jake worries about spots appearing on two fir trees, her ex-fiancé, Silas, now a lawyer, informs her she could inherit a large sum from the Greenwood estate. Orphaned at age eight, Jake knows little about her family, and the more she learns through reading her grandmother's journal, the less she wants the money. Her father, Liam, was a carpenter and gifted woodworker. Liam's mother, Willow, was the ecoterrorist daughter of lumber tycoon Harris Greenwood. Willow, though, was not Harris's biological daughter. Abandoned as a baby, she was rescued by Harris's brother Everett and entrusted to Harris for safekeeping. Nor were Harris and Everett biological brothers; they were survivors of a train wreck who were raised together by a lumberjack's widow and given the name Greenwood. Christie recounts each generation's story through concentric flashbacks in which families, like forests, experience both devastation and renewal, anchored in Jake's recognition that she'd rather inherit the earth than a fortune derived from its destruction. This superb family saga will satisfy fans of Richard Powers's The Overstory while offering a convincing vision of potential ecological destruction. (Feb.)

Booklist Review

The year is 2038 and an eco-apocalypse called the Withering has decimated the planet's woodlands. On a remote island off the coast of Vancouver. B. C., Jacinda Jake Greenwood conducts tours of a rare, corporately owned surviving forest. Ironically, the Greenwood name is synonymous with the lumber industry whose avaricious habits contributed to the global crisis, but while the Greenwoods still boast considerable influence, Jake doubts she has any family connection. Which is too bad, since she is mired in student debt and living a pauper's existence. Then one day, an old friend, now a lawyer, presents her with a box of documents and mementos that may establish her ancestry and solve not only her problems but also those of this ecologically fragile habitat. With searing imagery and memorable characters, Christie's soaring multigenerational saga moves backward and forward in time, with stops in between 2038 and 1908, spinning a tale of greed, betrayal, destruction, and endurance that never wanes, told through the voices of men and women caught up in economic and environmental struggles they can never escape.--Carol Haggas Copyright 2020 Booklist

Guardian Review

The Canadian writer Michael Christie is a former professional skateboarder whose debut novel, If I Fall, If I Die, was a semi-autobiographical story of an 11-year-old boy caring for a severely agoraphobic mother. Christie's off-kilter style presented a peculiarly Canadian perspective on the vast, empty landscape: "My mother claimed that because nature was always trying to kill Canadians it made them different from other people." The follow-up, Greenwood, is a dense yet exhilarating eco-parable that spans a period from the great depression to a bleak prediction of the very near future. But at its heart lies that same Canadian paranoia about the natural world. Harris Greenwood is a lumberman raised during the leanest years of the 1930s, who has made a healthy fortune hacking down swaths of British Columbian forest. His rationale is that even the mighty sequoia are merely "weeds on poles"; and that clearing them is a necessary, pre-emptive form of self-defence. "You think trees are sacred, that they love you. That they grow for your enjoyment. But those who really know trees know they're also ruthless. They've been fighting a war for sunlight and sustenance since before we existed." Over the generations the Greenwood lumber empire has diminished as catastrophically as the forests it plundered. The decline begins with Harris's ill-advised deal to supply railway sleepers to Japan shortly before the outbreak of the second world war. Later his estranged adopted daughter Willow gains posthumous revenge by handing her entire inheritance to a chaotic hippie collective in the 70s. Her son Liam is left to scrape a living as an artisan carpenter, crafting increasingly scarce reclaimed wood into boardroom tables. But the opening chapters of the novel are set in 2038, and feature Liam's daughter Jacinda Greenwood (known as Jake); a graduate dendrologist with a mountain of student debt living in a world almost entirely devoid of trees. Christie posits a world attempting to recover from an ecological catastrophe known as the Great Withering, during which rising temperatures unleashed a virulent new strain of fungus that destroys trees. The lack of a forest canopy causes soils to dry up, creating "killer dust clouds as fine as all-purpose flour". The world is left swarming with desperate climate refugees, many suffering from "rib-retch"; a lethal, hacking cough that "snaps ribs like kindling". In the new world order, the Canadian prime minster emerges as the most powerful woman on earth, with the vast and, in places, still-green country functioning as "a global panic room for the world's elite". Jake finds herself working as a vastly over-qualified tour guide at a Pacific island re-branded as the "Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral": an exclusive resort where the super-rich take therapeutic breaks in one of the world's last surviving old-growth forests. "They come to be reminded that the earth's once-thundering green heart has not flatlined, that it isn't too late and all is not lost. They come here to the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral to ingest this outrageous lie, and it's Jake Greenwood's job as Forest Guide to spoon-feed it to them." The speculative episodes contain the most arresting and bleakly realised passages of the book, but they form merely the outer perimeter of a layered narrative constructed like the growth rings of a giant redwood. The scale of Christie's ambition becomes apparent when the novel goes head-to-head with the greatest dust-bowl narrative ever told. The allusions to The Grapes of Wrath are far from hidden - Liam Greenwood observes the hipster clientele of a Brooklyn cafe "in their old-time canvas aprons, linen work shirts and perfectly distressed boots like they've stepped out of the pages of a Steinbeck novel". But the sections set in the 30s resound with authentically Steinbeckian cadences, albeit slightly modified in vocabulary: "Smothering dusters scoured the lead paint from the barn and house, leaving great swaths of pinewood as white as a farmer's bared ass." Every generation produces prophets convinced that the age we are living in will be the last. Yet who in the present climate can confidently dismiss as fiction Christie's depiction of "the quaint period before the Withering when people still believed that well-intended, measured engagement could avert catastrophe"? Perhaps the most prescient sections of the book are those that depict the dawn of climate activism in the 70s. Jake's feckless grandmother Willow is among the original tribe of earth-warriors; yet saving trees is to her as much a self-conscious pose as cultivating underarm hair and a lentil diet. "Why is it, she wonders casually, that we expect our children to be the ones to halt deforestation and to rescue the planet tomorrow when we are the ones overseeing its destruction today?" Christie's book predicts a horribly plausible ecological Armageddon; and though it may not be the first to suggest that the opportunity to avert catastrophe has already passed, its great summation could well be the old Chinese proverb that Willow is fond of quoting: "The best time to plant a tree is always 20 years ago. And the second-best time is always now."

Kirkus Review

Canadian novelist Christie (If I Fall, If I Die, 2015, etc.) takes us to the end of the world and shows how we got there."No one knows better than a dendrologist that it's the forests that matter." It's 2038, and Jacinda "Jake" Greenwood is a guide in one of the last stands of old-growth forest in the world, a place to which wealthy eco-tourists, fleeing the dust storms and intense heat wrought by "the Great Withering" elsewhere, come to spend a few days in a tiny patch of green. One visitor, a former fiance named Silas, informs Jake, long an orphan, that she's more than just an employee: The whole shebang belongs to her, and not just because she bears the same name as the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral to which those well-heeled pilgrims flock. No, it's because she descends not from the Greenwoods but from a founder of the all-encompassing Holtcorp, owner of Greenwood and much else, by way of her grandmother Willow. (Note all the woody names.) Therein hangs a tale that Christie staircases his narrative down to reach, generation by generation, one in which Jake's antecedents love and admire the forests in which they dwell but still set into motion the machines that will one day ruin the Earth. Willow is a free-spirited hippie whom we meet in the early 1970s, newly indignant to discover that the man she supposes is her father has derived his considerable fortune from having felled more old-growth forest than "wind, woodpeckers, and Godput together." But Willowwell, suffice it to say that the matter of her paternity isn't at all clear-cut even if the forests her progenitors control have been. Christie skillfully teases out the details in a page-turner of a saga that complements sylvan books such as Sometimes a Great Notion and The Overstory, one that closes with Jake's realization that, tangled lineage and all, a family is less a tree than "a collection of individuals pooling their resources through intertwined roots." Beguilingly structured, elegantly written: eco-apocalyptic but with hope that somehow we'll make it. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Celebrated Canadian author Christie (If I Fall, If I Die) dazzles with this richly woven historical tracking five generations of the "trouble-plagued" Greenwood clan and the environmental devastation wrought by its lucrative timber empire. Set across the vast expanse of the North Country provinces, the novel opens in 2038, with dendrologist Jacinda "Jake" Greenwood working as a tour guide for an up-scale retreat on remote Greenwood Island near the Pacific Rim of British Columbia. She's facing the brutal reality of her ancestral past as evidence surfaces of her potential bloodline connection to the megacorporation Holt, which owns the leafy refuge. To unfold the Greenwood legacy, Christie moves back in time, from 2008 to 1974 to 1934, to, finally, 1908, when a catastrophic head-on train crash brought together survivors Everett and Harris, dubbed the "green wood" boys by the Edmonton community that took them in as orphans. Blind Harris persists and establishes Greenwood Timber, while wartime trauma drives Everett into a life of deep isolation. VERDICT Giller and IMPAC-nominated Christie should garner the attention he deserves in America with this spellbinding family saga reflecting fiction's intensifying interest in the climate crisis as well as humanity's innate desire to make amends for past wrongs and start anew. [See "Seasonal Selections," LJ 2/20, p. 27.]--Annalisa Pešek, Library Journal



2038 THE GREENWOOD ARBOREAL CATHEDRAL They come for the trees. To smell their needles. To caress their bark. To be regenerated in the humbling loom of their shadows. To stand mutely in their leafy churches and pray to their thousand-year-old souls. From the world's dust-choked cities they venture to this exclusive arboreal resort--a remote forested island off the Pacific Rim of British Columbia--to be transformed, renewed, and reconnected. To be reminded that the Earth's once-thundering green heart has not flatlined, that the soul of all living things has not come to dust and that it isn't too late and that all is not lost. They come here to the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral to ingest this outrageous lie, and it's Jake Greenwood's job as Forest Guide to spoon-feed it to them. God's Middle Finger As first light trickles through the branches, Jake greets this morning's group of Pilgrims at the trailhead. Today, she'll lead them out among the sky-high spires of Douglas fir and Western red cedar, between granite outcrops plush with electric green moss, to the old-growth trees, where epiphany awaits. Given the forecasted rain, the dozen Pilgrims are all swaddled in complimentary Leafskin, the shimmery yet breathable new fabric that's replaced Gore-Tex, nano-engineered to mimic the way leaves bead and repel water. Though the Cathedral has issued Jake her own Leafskin jacket, she seldom wears it for fear of damaging company property; she's already deep enough in debt without having to worry about a costly replacement. Yet trudging through the drizzling rain that begins just after they set out on the trail, Jake wishes she'd made an exception today. Despite the liter of ink-black coffee she gulped before work this morning, Jake's hungover brain is taffy-like, and it throbs in painful synchronization with every step she takes. Though she's woefully unprepared for public speaking, once they reach the first glades of old-growth she begins her usual introduction. "Welcome to the beating heart of the Greenwood Arboreal Cathedral," she says in a loud, theatrical voice. "You're standing on fifty-seven square kilometers of one of the last remaining old-growth forests on Earth." Immediately, the Pilgrims brandish their phones and commence to feverishly thumb their screens. Jake never knows whether they're fact-checking her statements, posting breathless exclamations of wonder, or doing something entirely unrelated to the tour. "These trees act like huge air filters," she carries on. "Their needles suck up dust, hydrocarbons, and other toxic particles, and breathe out pure oxygen, rich with phytoncides, the chemicals that have been found to drop our blood pressure and slow our heart rates. Just one of these mature firs can generate the daily oxygen required by four adult humans." On cue, the Pilgrims begin to video themselves taking deep breaths through their noses. While Jake is free to mention the Earth's rampant dust storms in the abstract, it's Cathedral policy never to speak of their cause: the Great Withering--the wave of fungal blights and insect infestations that rolled over the world's forests ten years ago, decimating hectare after hectare. The Pilgrims have come to relax and forget about the Withering, and it's her job (and jobs, she's aware, are currently in short supply) to ensure they do. Following her introduction, she coaxes the Pilgrims a few miles west, into a grove of proper old-growth giants, whose trunks bulge wider than mid-sized cars. These are trees of such immensity and grandeur they seem unreal, like film props or monuments. In the presence of such giants, the Pilgrims assume hushed, reverent tones. Official Holtcorp policy is to refer to the forest as the Cathedral and its guests as Pilgrims; Knut, Greenwood Island's most senior Forest Guide and Jake's closest friend, claims that this is because the forest was the first (and now, perhaps, the last) church. Back when air travel didn't command a year's salary, Jake once visited Rome on a learning exchange and saw only curving limbs and ropy trunks in its columns and porticoes. The leafy dome of the mosque; the upward-soaring spires of the abbey; the ribbed vault of the cathedral--which faith's sacred structures weren't designed with trees as inspiration? Now some of the Pilgrims actually begin to embrace the bark for long durations without irony or embarrassment. In their information packages, the Pilgrims are instructed not to approach the trees too closely, as their weight compacts the soil around the trunks and causes the roots to soak up less water. But Jake holds her tongue and watches the Pilgrims commune, photograph, and huff the chlorophyll-scrubbed air with a reverence that is part performance, part genuine appreciation, though it's difficult for her to estimate in which proportions. Soon they barrage her with impossibly technical questions: "So how much would a thing like this weigh?" asks a short man with a Midwestern accent. "This reminds me of being a girl," a fifty-something investment banker declares, caressing a moss-wrapped cedar. While most of the Pilgrims seem to be tuning in to the Green magnificence, a few appear lost, underwhelmed. Jake watches the short Midwestern man place his palm against a Douglas fir's bark, gaze up into the canopy, and attempt to feel awed. But she can sense his disappointment. Soon he and the others retreat back into their phones for the relief of distraction. This is to be expected. Even though they've paid the Cathedral's hefty fees and endured the indignities of post-Withering travel, there are always a few who can't escape the burden of how relaxed they're supposed to be at this moment, and how dearly it's costing them to fail. The Pilgrims are easily mocked, but Jake also pities them. Hasn't she remained here on Greenwood Island for the same purpose? To glean something rare and sustaining from its trees, to breathe their clean air and feel less hopeless among them? On the Mainland, the Pilgrims live in opulent, climate-controlled towers that protect them from rib retch--the new strain of tuberculosis endemic to the world's dust-choked slums, named after the cough that snaps ribs like kindling, especially in children--yet they still arrive at the Cathedral seeking something ineffable that's missing from their lives. They've read that article about the health benefits of shinrin-yoku, the Japanese term for "forest bathing." They've listened to that podcast about how just a few hours spent among trees triples your creativity. So they're here to be healed, however temporarily, and if Jake weren't mired in student debt and hadn't embarked on such a pitifully unmarketable career as botany, she'd gladly be one of them. When Jake notices a patrol of Rangers creeping through some cedars in the distance, she carefully herds the Pilgrims to the picnic area for their prepared lunches, dubbed "Upscale Logging Camp" by the resort's Michelin-starred chef. Today, it's artisanal hot dogs with chanterelle ketchup and organic s'mores. While watching them photograph their food, Jake's eye snags on a particular Pilgrim sitting apart from the group, wearing large sunglasses and an unfashionable cap pulled low. He's wealthy, some Holtcorp executive or actor no doubt, though Jake would be the last person to know. Because she can't afford a screen in her staff cabin--her student loan interest payments don't leave her enough for Internet access--she seldom recognizes the resort's famous visitors. Still, the true celebrities can be identified by that glittery aura they exude, the sense that they've forged a deeper connection to the world than regular people like her. After lunch Jake escorts the Pilgrims to the tour's grand finale, the largest stand on Greenwood Island, where she hits them with a poetic bit she wrote and memorized years back: "Many of the Cathedral's trees are over twelve hundred years old. That's older than our families, older than most of our names. Older than the current forms of our governments, even older than some of our myths and ideologies. "Like this one," she says, patting the foot-thick bark of the island's tallest Douglas fir, a breathtaking tree that she and Knut have secretly named "God's Middle Finger." "This two-hundred-and-thirty-foot titan was already a hundred and fifty feet tall when Shakespeare sat down and dipped his quill to begin writing Hamlet." She pauses to watch a stoic solemnity grip the group. She's laying it on thick, but her hangover has cleared and she's finally found her rhetorical groove. And when she gets going, she wants nothing less than to wow the Pilgrims with the wonders of all creation. "Each year of its life, this tree has expanded its bark and built a new ring of cambium to encase the ring of growth that came the year before it. That's twelve hundred layers of heartwood, enough to thrust the tree's needled crown into the clouds." Excerpted from Greenwood: A Novel by Michael Christie All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.