Book Review: Revisiting Gloria Whelan's A Clearing in the Forest
Lately, I've been thinking about Gloria Whelan's novel, A Clearing in the Forest. I discovered this novel when I was about eleven, and it resonated with me so much I can remember the exact night I read it.
When I first read A Clearing in the Forest, I did so on my bed in one sitting. It was the late 90s, I was in middle school, it was a weekend evening, and my mom was throwing a Home Interiors party in our living room. These parties were pretty common at the time and in our house. They were an opportunity for my mother to socialize with her friends, have snacks, and buy a plethora of decorative jars, knick-knack shelves, candles, and artificial floral arrangements. They were also a good excuse to steal some appetizers from the kitchen and hide away in my room with a book.
Clearing (1978) is Whelan's first novel, and it explores the environmental concerns in northern Michigan when an old woman refuses to surrender her land to an oil company that has usurped her mineral rights. The woman also forms a friendship with a teenage boy who briefly works for the drilling company. While the subtleties of environmental politics at play in the novel touched me, I was more captivated by the old woman and her connection with the land. She lived in a cottage resting amidst a wooded clearing, not far from a river. She lived off the land, growing her own vegetables and harvesting forest fruit. She revered nature, dedicating herself to protecting her environment. I spent a lot of my childhood walking in the woods (though my family lived in town) and I recognized the importance of preserving trees, water, and the many animals that lived in the hills around my small town. The book struck the cord, and it cultivated my romance with small cottages in out-of-way places.
Because this book moved me, I am always surprised that no one talks about it. In the movie You've Got Mail, Meg Ryan's character says--and I'm paraphrasing here--that the reading you do as a child sticks with you in a way no other reading does; it forms who you are. This is the lynch pin for my memories of A Clearing in the Forest. It helped make me who I am. My imagination lives in a place not all that different from the book's setting--in a small cottage surrounded by trees, near the water.