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July 2, 2019

We Went to the Woods by Caite Dolan-Leach ~ a Review

by MK French

I'm the wrong one to tell our story. I was the late arrival, the last on board, the self-effacing supplement to the lopsided structure of which Louisa and Beau were the main architects. If only it were Beau telling our tale, drawling his way through it, cigarillo dangling from his lips. Or Louisa, nattering on with her breakneck fluency. Best of all, maybe, Jack, with his sculpted insights, frank amazement, arms carving ut a circumference of joy. Chloe could convince anyone that we were beautiful and right and noble to do what we did. Instead, of the five of us, I am the only one left. I was the least important, the watchful cipher who served only as an audience and an extra body, an afterthought. Maybe Beau knew that he would need someone outside their tight quadrilateral, to record and capture them, to witness - an extra point to make a pentagon. After all, he was the only one who knew the ending of the story we all thought we were writing together. p. 3

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

July 2019; Random House; 978-0399588884
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); literary fiction
Mack is ashamed of the fallout from her trial at reality TV and is left out of sorts when she meets Louisa. Louisa and Beau are charismatic, and along with Chloe and Jack want to use abandoned property that Louisa's father owns to build a homestead. They're all disaffected millennials that are sure the world is about to combust in the end stages of capitalism, and apparently, all of them have secrets of their own they'd rather keep.

There's often a lot of talk about how millennials don't care about anything and are "destroying" various industries. But they're constantly anxious about the state of the world and their place in it, especially when there doesn't seem to be the place for them that was promised after grueling years of school. Without much focus for these anxieties, these five people decide that they want to try homesteading and living in a more sustainable manner. It inevitably involves complicated sexual relationships between them, particularly Louisa, Beau, and Chloe, but the five of them have their own tangled geometry of emotions, especially when Mack realizes that Louisa and Beau know more about their homesteading neighbors The Collective than they really want to share. She feels the need to dig for the truth, but the truth is a malleable thing when she wants to make their story match the old journal of a homesteader that had been on the property a century before.

Caite had written the engaging and brilliant Dead Letters (review here) and We Went to the Woods is no different. Going off the grid is an impulse a lot of people have, especially in a hyper-connected world that seems to want people to be available and "on" all the time. Unlike the reader insert character in Molly Dektar's The Ash Family (review here), the idea to retreat from the world is one that everyone goes into willingly. Mack is less of a cipher than Berie from that book, and she withdrew from the world for a selfish reason. She wanted to escape the vitriol of social media that followed her very public humiliation, and her desire to escape follows her relationships here as well. Her desire to know about everyone else, particularly Louisa and Beau, seems to be as much an escape and way to ignore herself.

There are aspects that readers may want to know about beforehand: mentions of mental illness, a suicide attempt, the death of a dog, 2016 politics and a massive winter storm. They're dealt with inside the text in a rather respectful way, and not just for shock value. Ultimately, none of them were prepared to truly step back from the world and weren't equipped to deal with a reality they had no control over. It's sad and gripping at the same time.

Buy We Went to the Woods at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

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  1. I like the sound of this one, and, I love how you mentioned things in the book that might be unsettling for some readers. Here's my pick:

    1. It's nice to have a warning for some serious things, because the summaries never mention them. It doesn't spoil the story, but those sensitive to the topics may need to prepare themselves first.

  2. I was interested until you posted that there were thinkgs in the book that might be too hard for some to read. I'd be one of those people.

    1. The book is really well done, but I don't want someone going two thirds of the way through the book and then getting smacked with really sensitive topics.

  3. I like the opening, but sometimes avoid books with mental illness themes. Thanks for the warning.

    1. You're welcome. It's not a huge part of the plot, but it's there and can be a shock if you're not expecting it.