The Rest Is Silence

By Scott Fotheringham

The Rest Is Silence is a curious hybrid of a novel, being a dual-track eco-fantasy with its narrative feet planted in two very different worlds. The main story deals with a young man who has gone to build a cabin and live in the Nova Scotia woods. While there he bonds with a pair of local residents: a wise old man of the woods and a sexy native Earth-mother figure that he takes to bed. Alternating with this Thoreau story is a parallel account of slightly earlier events involving a researcher in New York City who is developing a strain of plastic-eating bacteria. Her research is initially motivated toward solving environmental problems, but as she goes on it turns into a kind of eco-terrorism that, when the bacteria is released, eventually plunges the world into chaos. Living off the grid at the edge of the world turns out, not coincidentally, to have been a good move.

There is much here that is familiar ground for Canadian fiction, like the amount of nature writing describing the various seasons and flora and fauna, the frequent flashbacks that take us through a dysfunctional family history, and the attention to domestic duties such as the planting of small-scale locavore crops and the gathering of fuel for the wood stove. Even the twist at the end recalls a recent East coast bestseller. The secondary narrative, however, adds another, original dimension to what would otherwise have been a conventional tale. These two tracks are nicely woven together, and though alert readers will guess where things are going before they get there, some suspense is maintained while interesting ideas about the relationship between nature and civilization, chaos and stability, are developed.

As a novel of speculative ideas grounded in evocations of earth and the body at work and play, it works remarkably well most of the time. The necessities of the plot make the main character hard to relate to, and the supporting cast are allowed to drift into stereotypes, but Fotheringham seems finally to be more interested in their place in the world, and their relation to time and the environment. Like most such fables it goes on a bit too long, but also like a fable it makes a simple and lasting impression.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, June 2012.

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