Back to the Garden takes the reader through post-apocalyptic America, after climate change and other ecological disasters have devastated the planet. A group of survivors heads out to find loved ones, meanwhile facing painful and nostalgic memories of a different world as well as struggling through personal loss and tragedy. Across fierce deserts and ghost towns, contaminated lakes and rivers, and deplorable faces of death, the group develops surprising relationships and resolutions. The novel blends suspense, humor, struggle, and sorrow as the main characters document their journey through the harsh wasteland–with hope and appreciation for nature ruling above all. The novel is a literary speculative story, with the idea that living within nature’s limitations may well offer true riches and happiness.
3.8 rating based on 37 ratings (all editions)
Author(s): Publisher: Moon Willow Press
Note: This current stand-alone novel is now being edited to launch the new Wild Mountain series. Part II is titled To the Waters and the Wild. The new edition is slated to be published in late 2018.
Clara Hume’s speculative ecofiction, Back to the Garden, is told from the perspective of a group of “tipping point” survivors–a generation of mountain folks who have experienced the collapse of late-stage capitalism, along with widespread ecosystem degradation due to climate change. It is within the framework of a unique time, when these characters live through two worlds, vastly different from one another, that they tell their tales, a way of documenting their journeys in life.
While the friends and family in this novel struggle to survive, and overcome personal losses and grief, they do so with the strength of character that allows people to gracefully succeed during times of societal failure. They understand that true riches of life come from the great outdoors and from their relationships with each other. They learn to survive and adapt to a climate-changed world. Part “road” novel, part survival tale, and part romance, this literary novel looks into the human psyche as people similar to how we imagine ourselves find hope in the face of disaster.
Back to the Garden presents a frightening and tragic possibility for our future but doesn’t ignore our affirmative connection to the wilderness and to other people. The novel attempts to open people’s eyes to the importance of respecting limits, before it’s too late.
By Clara Hume:
I haven’t really talked about Back to the Garden except for in a little wording for press releases and descriptions. This is my second completed book and first published novel. The nature of the book resulted from the fact that a lot of ecological devastation is going on, and there aren’t enough laws to protect our water, land, and air. Also, climate change is the biggest issue we’re likely to face this century, but it is not addressed correctly in the media nor by politics. These two things–climate change and ecological devastation–are huge umbrella terms that are challenging to address and include so many layers that nobody seems to be able to look at them properly. I figured a fictional novel might work as long as it wasn’t preachy. Rather, Back to the Garden evolves as a framework for how characters resolve issues in a new world.
A few years ago I woke up from a dream in which I was on a very dry beach, so dry that my throat was parched. The wind was blowing my hair wildly around my face, stinging. I had a sense that I was a survivor far into the future after climate change and other problems had ruined much of the population. Across the beach was a man who looked like Leonardo DiCaprio, but only a little. He was way more rugged and not gentle or kindly as I would imagine. He was gruff toward me and very much inside himself. He had made a camp across the beach, though, so I had to put up with him. I can’t remember much happening in the dream other than a few rude words he said to me. At the same time, he still seemed to respect that I was there, that I was alive too.
I woke up the next day and began to write the novel, which at first had no name, but had the filename “Fan and Leo.docx”. The novel went through a few title iterations, including a name change of one of the main characters, “Fan” to “Fran”. I put this beach from my dream at a lake in Idaho and began to build up the characters’ home, pasts, family, and friends. About a quarter of the way through, I spent so much time going back to clean up the first chapter or two that I didn’t foresee ever really finishing the novel. My father-in-law Al said to me, “Don’t worry about editing anything. Just keep writing until you’re done. Revise it after you’re done.” His advice was the best. Al was never a writer. He had raised his kids, including my husband, on a ranch when they were young. Ranch life back then was rough, and in the mountains of the interior of British Columbia, life was rewarding but cold in the winter and hot in the summer. He knew how to get things done. Just do it.
- Fragments of Nomad Days, by Allan Graubard: The author wrote the prose after being visually inspired by a triptych of a woman named Caroline. The writing represented the narrator in exile in the same sort of dry land I had dreamed of. The writing was haunting and full of transience and shadows. Graubard’s visual poem (illustrated by Ira Cohen) typified the type of thought process and imagery that I would summon for Back to the Garden.
- The song Back to the Garden, live version by Joni Mitchell. This is the only version that should be thought of as being inspirational to the book, due to her slow, pure voice. I didn’t really care about the reference to Woodstock, but did like her lyrics: We are stardust. Billion year old carbon. These two lines, like Graubard’s prose, drove me to write the characters as important but also ephemeral. There’s a little religious allusion there too, as the garden is introduced in the opening scenes–among these gardens are also apple groves, which show up in the end of the book too.
- Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, which gave the book its interim name The Leavers. Between the first and subsequent drafts of the novel, I termed it The Leavers, changing the name to Back to the Garden only a few months before publication. In Quinn’s novel, the leavers and takers are two types of humans (beginning with Australopithecus) having lived on planet Earth, with the leavers having lived for three million years, within the limits of their environment, and the takers having wiped out the leavers during the agricultural revolution, which set in motion the beginning to the end of ecological destruction on earth. Going back to the idea of the garden of Eden, Quinn also explains what he feels are perhaps the intended narratives behind the Tree of the Knowledge or Good and Evil as well as the Cain vs. Abel story. My novel also gives a nod to Quinn’s discussion of immutable laws. I left the original title and cover photo in the book’s front matter.
- The show Lost. I’m not a big t.v. fan, but that changed with the epic show Lost. I was pretty impressed with the way the creators of the show presented a multi-faceted narrative involving different characters. I haven’t seen too much of that in writing, and it is much harder to do when you don’t have a visual platform. When I wrote, I envisioned the landscape and the characters as if they were on screen, and wrote them from others’ perspectives. The book’s main characters are built upon, and soon there are ten characters who present perspectives about situations throughout the novel. While these narratives don’t contradict each other, they do add on to what others have perceived–which is really how we get as close to truth as possible: to lend credibility through peer review. But the book isn’t so much about seeking truth as it is redemption. Each character has something from their past that they are struggling with. These things are directly brought on by the changing world, and as one of the characters Elena points out while quoting Melville, it is only when humans redeem themselves that they can begin to redeem their natural environment.