In 1976, at the age of 8, Peggy’s father takes her far into the forest, and tells her the rest of the world has disappeared. They stay there together for 9 years. As a survivalist, Peggy’s father has been preparing for this a long time, but, until the end of the book, we don’t know what caused his decision to finally take off.
The story alternates between 1976 and 1985, which is the year Peggy finds her way back home. Peggy narrates the story, filling us in on her experiences in the forest, while telling us what it’s like for her to be home after all these years. This story is gripping, and it will haunt you for a while after it’s over. For Peggy and her family, it will never really be over.
I had no idea this wind-worn woman, creased and bag-eyed, standing outside her barn with her cow on a rope, would be the last person I would meet from the real world for another nine years. Perhaps if I had known, I would have clung to the folds of her skirt, hooked my fingers over the waistband of her apron and tucked my knees around one of her stout legs. Stuck fast, like a limpet or a Siamese twin, I would have been carried with her when she rose in the morning to milk the cow, or into her kitchen to stir the porridge. If I had known, I might never have let her go.
I found it fascinating to read about their days in the forest together; what they had, what they used, what they made, what they did, what they ate, how they lived. Just the two of them day after day, Peggy believing that there was no one else left on earth, no where else to go. Until she meets Reuben.
The rhythm of our days cocooned me, reassured and comforted me. I slipped into it without thought, so that the life we lived – in an isolated cabin on a crust of land, with the rest of the world simply wiped away, like a damp cloth passed across a chalked blackboard – became my unquestioned normality.
In one amazing part of the book, Peggy’s father makes her a piano out of wood, for her to learn on. Peggy’s mother is a well-known piano player, but has never taught her to play. In the forest, Peggy’s father lovingly carves out the keys, weighting them perfectly, paying close attention to detail. He teaches her to play using the one set of sheet music they took from the house. The piano doesn’t make any sound, but Peggy practices for hours, imagining the music and singing along. Her obsession with it gives her something to focus on when things get tough or lonely.
One thing that fascinated me, and I wish there had been more time spent on it, was how Peggy and her father change over the nine years they are isolated from everyone else. It becomes increasingly obvious that her father is loosing his grip. I couldn’t help but wonder about how a young girl’s sense of reality would hold up in the same situation. Even though I started to suspect what was coming, it didn’t take away from the horror of it. The whole book is like a train crash that you can see coming, but you can’t stop watching.
A few reviewers on Goodreads mention that they wish that the author had spent more time on the revelations at the end of the book, and I remember feeling the same thing, but after I thought about it for a while I came to the conclusion that it would probably take a whole book to follow up on all the ramifications. I think it was the right place to stop.
Claire Fuller’s blog and website.
I experienced the same kind of ‘book hangover’ that Steph describes in her review at Bella’s Bookshelves.
*I received an ARC of this book from the publisher, which does not affect the content of my review. The quotes provided in this review are from an Uncorrected Proof.