10.23.2014

I Finished a Book - YEA!

I finished a book. A novel, in fact.

It is by Ruth Ozeki, and titled "All Over Creation."

The fact that I actually finished a book speaks to its quality, if you want the quick and dirty binary rating, thumbs up or down. That means I gave it a thumbs up. I am notoriously bad about finishing books that do not engage me or that lose my interest.

There are a couple of main threads to the story, one of them individual, the other social. The plot centers around potato farming in Idaho and the growth of GMO foods and pesticide use. A prodigal child (Yumi) returns home to the Idaho potato farm of her youth, from Hawaii, because her father (Lloyd) is dying, and her Japanese mother (Momoko) is too old and senile to take care of him. One of her childhood friends (Cass) now runs a neighboring potato farm, along with her husband (Will), and they've been taking care of the old folks, but now that Lloyd has had a heart attack and Momoko is losing it, they can't handle it, which is why Yumi gets called back from Hawaii.

Turns out, Yumi ran away after getting pregnant by way of her history teacher at age 14 (that aspect of the plot is a little grim, but more on that later). Yumi's dying dad is and was a staunch pro-lifer, and he basically disowned her when she got an abortion. Yumi went off and became a hippie and had three kids, one of them now just an infant, who also return with her from Hawaii.

Cass and Will are grappling with a different human drama. Cass is unable to bear children and she suspects it has to do with the toxic pesticides used on the potato fields. She had not one but two miscarriages in the past and has given up hope of having a child. Will has gone to GMO potatoes in hopes of reducing pesticide "inputs" on his fields.

There is a bit of angst between Cass and Yumi, which is really just resentment by Cass that Yumi abandoned her when they were kids, and now Cass is caring for Yumi's folks, when Yumi should have been there. They hash this out and resume a solid friendship.

Meanwhile, some environmental activists come on the scene (the Seeds of Change) and befriend Yumi's teenage kids (boy Phoenix and girl Ocean), eventually parking their RV on Lloyd's property and getting on Lloyd's good side by appealing to his pro-lifer beliefs in regard to agriculture and seeds and soil. They convince him that GMOs and pesticides and the corporations that make them are anti-life (and they convince the readers too, fairly well) and he agrees to let them hold a big rally on his land.

Well, the rally gets a little out of hand as the activists pull GMO potatoes out of the ground on Will's neighboring fields in protest. Cops are called and things go down.

The other plotline is that Yumi's statutory raping history teacher (Elliot) now works for an evil, greedy GMO and pesticide multinational corporation (yep, a real douchebag), called Cynaco (basically Monsanto). He comes on the scene and somehow manages to manipulate Yumi into having a sexual relationship with him again (he's basically a bully, but she's trying to resolve her childhood issues through him). Then he uses her to get info about the activists and their rally. He ends up hiring a thug to cause trouble for the activists (side note: the activists also run a porn site to raise money for their operations...). Ultimately, an "accident" happens that kills one of the activists (Charmey), who was a new teen mom (her child fathered by another of the activists). The RV explodes while she (but not the baby) is in it and the cops, who are totally in the pocket of the potato agro-industrialists, cannot say it was not an accident. But the Seeds, Yumi, and Cass know. On top of that, the explosion pushes Lloyd into another heart attack that spells his rapid demise. Yumi is shamed because of her rekindled relationship with Elliot and gets a wake-up call about her poor life choices. Elliot does too, because he did not want anyone to be harmed or killed, but he loses control of the situation with the corporate thug. He does redeem himself partially by quitting his sh!tty job, but he is still a creep.

The plot doesn't have a lot of closure. Everyone kind of goes back to where they came from, Yumi to Hawaii, the Seeds off to fight the good environmental fight on the west coast. The resolution I suppose is that Cass and Will end up adopting the infant whose mom, Charmey, was incinerated in the RV explosion.

I think there is a moral theme about pro-life in this book. I think the book was a gift from someone I know who is a fundamentalist Christian, so that would make sense. But this theme wasn't overbearing or even particularly critical to the plot. In fact, it ends up being the Achilles heel that persuades Lloyd to let the activists ingratiate themselves on everyone. Depending on your perspective, you might attribute the disastrous turn of events to the environmental activists (had they not shown up, none of it would have gone down as it did) or to the multinational agri-business (had Elliot not sold out and hired a thug, none of it would have gone down as it did).

Anyway, I fall back on my original review rating: THUMBS UP.

If anyone wants to read it (now that I have spoiled the entire plot...but there's a lot more to it than my summary), I will gladly pay my copy forward. Let me know.

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