cover image The New Wilderness

The New Wilderness

Diane Cook. Harper, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-233313-1

In this wry, speculative debut novel (after the collection Man v. Nature), Cook envisions a crowded and polluted near future in which only one natural area remains, the Wilderness State. Twenty people volunteer for a government experiment in how humans fare in the wilderness—it’s been so long since anyone tried that no one remembers. Among the volunteers are Glen, “an important person” at a university; his wife, Bea; and Bea’s daughter, Agnes, and they, along with the others, collectively called “The Community,” learn to eke out a precarious existence hunting with bows and arrows, tanning animal hides, and negotiating dangerous terrain. As the years pass unmarked other than with Bea noticing a fourth annual appearance of violet blossoms, the volunteers gradually abandon their commitments to the study, though they remain expected to obey rules enforced by Rangers—never stay in one place longer than seven days, never leave a trace—as members die off. More waitlisted refugees, called Newcomers, arrive from the city, and Bea perseveres, driven by hope for Agnes’s future. Cook powerfully describes the Community members’ transformation from city folk to primal beings, as they become fierce, cunning, and relentless in their struggle for survival and freedom, such as when Bea faces off with a mother coyote. Cook’s unsettling, darkly humorous tale explores maternal love and man’s disdain for nature with impressive results. (Aug.)