SFF

Road Out of Winter

Mira: Harlequin. Sept. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9780778309925. pap. $17.99. FANTASY
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Stine (The Protectors) blends a rural thriller and speculative realism into what could be called dystopian noir. The author’s vision is profoundly moving, as distressing as Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone but liable to inspire real-world action. Wil, who sells her parents’ basement-grown weed with her power to make anything grow, while at the Crossroads gas station, yearns in their two-year absence to leave southeast Ohio’s Appalachia and join them in California. The ever-cold and early dark signs of devastating climate change are freakish enough, but people lining up for bottled water, and hunting the woods for meat, has become the new normal. After encountering, and reluctantly taking in, woods-wandering Grayson, who has twisted his ankle, Wil hitches up her trailer home and trucks off. Her instincts to cover, hide, and keep secrets resonates with the broader environment of chaotic Internet identities and pervasive surveillance. Paranoia is dominant. Wil’s chronic emotional state, fortunately, is self-control in a desolate journey peopled by violent cults, drifters, and elitist deviants confronted by a natural world most have lost the ability to comprehend, let alone survive.
VERDICT Readers searching for a novel fueled by fierce intelligence and empathy will find here a celebration of humanity, and a warning against its loss.

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