Custom House. Jul. 2021. 480p. ISBN 9780063040144. $27.99. F
Bell’s third novel presents itself as a breakout work: Pitched to epic scale and scope, it’s a heady, metaphor-rich mash-up of fairy tale–fantasy, cli-fi, and postapocalyptic fiction. The novel is structured as three separate but entangled narratives. The first takes place at the turn of the 18th century and follows two brothers—one a man, one a faun—whose entrepreneurial pursuits find them planting apple trees across Ohio’s still-wild lands. The second is set in a nightmarish near-future of the climate change–ravaged late 21st century, as an eco-terrorist “rewilder” returns to the genetic engineering monolith he helped create. The last story line is set a thousand years in the future, in a new North American ice age. The result reflects a fairly organic waypoint for Bell, combining both the mythology and dark fabulism of his first novel, In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, and the more dystopic, mechanistic texture of his follow-up, Scrapper. While Bell’s writing remains rich and surprising, too much feels derivative of similar works, and the twined threads are unequally successful and fail to pull together with much punch.
VERDICT Loaded with ideas and often poignant in its ruminations, but also languorous and merely expository; there’s certainly no denying Bell’s ambition, but this work simply fails to take root.
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