Slightly strange and disorienting, there is a dream-like feel to Foulds’ prose throughout. That could also be said of Michael Christie’s Greenwood. But for more immediately apparent reasons: it opens more than a decade into the future, with a dystopic setting.
As with many of the characters in Michael Christie’s debut collection of stories, The Beggar’s Garden (2011), which was also nominated for the Giller Prize, the opening narrative is presented from the perspective of a character who lacks power and agency in a profoundly damaged world. In this world, it is after The Withering has taken hold, and very few trees remain.
A double-spread illustration reveals that the narratives are to be visualized like rings in the trunk of a tree: there are gaps of time between them, and Greenwood presents a cross-section view, so as you move through the story from the outside of the “tree”, you move back in time, until you reach the centre, and, then, as you continue to move towards the opposite side, you move forward in time, intersecting with each ring just once more.
Moving across more than one hundred years, there are connections between the narratives and timelines and, if not answers, at least possibilities. Certainly patterns. Consider this passage, in the second segment:
“She wonders about her father and if he also drank and whether that’s what made him ‘troubled’. If he did, Jake already forgives him. Maybe she drinks because of his genes. Or because of his absence. Or maybe his genes created his absence, which created her drinking. Or maybe he felt just as unwelcome in the world as she does now, and drinking was the only thing that allowed him any reprieve. Or maybe her roots are all too tangled, and there’s no single story to be told about any of it.”