by Michael Christie
“If history were itself a book, this era would surely be the last chapter, wouldn’t it? Or have all ages believed this? That life can’t possibly go on and that these are the end times?”
Jacinda “Jake” Greenwood studies trees, in a dying world that has far too few trees left. It’s 2038, and the Great Withering has destroyed most of the Earth’s forests. One of the rare exceptions is Greenwood Island, a private resort off the coast of British Columbia that enjoys a unique microclimate which has thus far protected it from the ravages of global warming. Jake shares a name with the island, a fact she always believed to be a coincidence—she is little more than an overqualified tour guide for wealthy vacationers. But as her family tree is peeled back ring by ring, Michael Christie reveals her surprising connection to the Greenwood Timber Greenwoods, lumber barons who made their fortune in the early 20th century. The story follows the intervening generations through the century as Canada’s timber industry rises and falls.
Greenwood is a multi-generational family saga that begins with orphans Harris and Everett Greenwood. From a meagre plot of woods in Ontario, Harris goes on to found Greenwood Timber, a titan of the forest industry than Christie slips in alongside the real companies that inspired it. But Harris’ daughter, Willow, rejects her father’s fortune and becomes an environmental crusader known for her direct-action protests. She in turn is appalled by her son Liam’s decision to become a carpenter, gobbling up wood to satisfy the appetites of rich corporate clients. But none of that success can save Liam from the accident that leaves his daughter an orphan. Likeable and unlikeable, each generation’s relationship to the land tells a broader story about how Canada relates to its natural environment, and the resources we have long taken for granted.
Michael Christie takes the reader through the Dust Bowl and into a future that imagines a Great Withering that echoes it, once again brought about by the consequences of human actions. Greenwood largely reads like historical fiction but with a dystopian frame narrative set in the near future. The bulk of the novel is not set in the future but focuses on the past choices that brought the Greenwood Island resort into being. Covered in old-growth forest inspired by Galiano Island, the trees of Greenwood Island are much older than the family whose name it continues to bear long after they relinquish ownership. Intact nature becomes a valuable commodity sold to the elite as a high-end vacation experience while average citizens live in a world wracked by dust and lung disease. It is a near future that feels all too possible, wrapped in a history that resonates with familiarity.
Greenwood is defended by actor and film maker Keegan Connor Tracy on Canada Reads 2023, airing March 27-30 on CBC. The theme this year is one book to shift your perspective.
“It is a cautionary tale about how we have used our natural resources and how we will use them in the future, which is something that I think we really need to face as Canadians.” – Keegan Connor Tracy
You might also like:
And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier (trans. Rhonda Mullins)
Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee