North Woods by Daniel Mason

North Woods by Daniel Mason

North Woods by Daniel Mason is a novel set against the backdrop of a single house in the woods of Western Massachusetts. It’s technically historical fiction since it draws from characters and real historical events…but I’m honestly not sure how to categorize it. It felt like there was really no overarching plot. It’s like a series of short stories about the same plot of land. The land connects all the stories and tells America’s cultural and natural history. As of 2024, it’s quite a popular book. I checked it out from my library and couldn’t renew it…since it has 76+ holds.

What I Liked

The book is beautifully written. It’s one of those novels that uses all the nuances, allusions, and connotations of English to write beautiful, memorable descriptions without becoming too tedious. The way the book uses rich, descriptive language reminded me of Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh, but with the bonus of being set in America, so I didn’t have to look up every turn of phrase and reference (especially when describing forests).

I love the book’s use of land to observe change over time. It’s a beautiful way to zoom out from the moment and be reminded of the change happening every day around us, all the time. Much of the book is about loss in the moment, which turns out to be about change over time.

I really liked the setting. New England has such a unique character and beautiful landscape. I also loved the crazy cast of characters. Everyone was believable and perfect for their place in time.

What I Did Not Like

Ok. Until the last 20 pages, the book felt disjointed. I was not expecting a series of short stories. The book also told the stories of some characters using different literary devices and points of view (one chapter was the transcript of a lecture, and another was a newspaper article). On the one hand, those devices were interesting and innovative, but I found the reading confusing and slow as someone reading the novel in short bursts instead of a single sitting.

A few of the chapters were incredibly tedious and slow. I was probably missing something, but it felt like the chapter was tedious and slow…to describe a tedious and slow character. I started skimming some of those sections when I got my library notice.

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