Matt Bell

Aug 10, 2021


Custom House 2021

We have a collective memory of a primeval world embodied in myth. It is a world where spirits lived in the trees, water, and mountains, and nature was sacred. Was such a world ever possible, or was it doomed as soon as humans spread? What went wrong with our planet and whose fault is it? Are innovators, who look to science for answers, agents of positive change, or merely heedless apologists for human greed? These are some of the many questions that Bell’s new novel, Appleseed (Custom House, 2021) provokes. No doubt a few literature students will be inspired to write papers.

Bell’s ambitious and original triptych of interlocking stories explores man’s relationship with the wilderness through three timelines, set in the past, the near future, and the far future, after a cataclysmic catastrophe. Snow Piercer has nothing on this chilly future world, bereft of any life.

Such a novel is a challenge to reduce to a synopsis. In one time period, the late 1800s, a faun, Chapman, suppresses his identity out of love for his human brother, as well as fear of the Furies who chase him, carrying Orpheus’ howling head. Chapman might be, in some magical manner, responsible for Eurydice’s death, though the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice does not involve Chapman directly, but rather an unnamed shadowy shepherd, who in some accounts was a faun. Chapman’s fear of the women who pursue him leads him to renounce the wild.

The second segment of the novel follows John Worth, a scientist who regrets his part in building the corporate empire that supplies a climate-change battered world with genetically modified foods, in return for absolute power. John, urged on by three wild women, former soldiers, returns to the company he helped found, to plot against the CEO, Eury, short for Eurydice.

In the third part of the novel, something apparently has gone wrong, either with Eury’s plan to delay the disastrous effects of climate change through launching a swarm of nanobees into the stratosphere, or with John’s intention to subvert her. The world is a frozen wasteland, apparently populated only by a cyborg creature that seems modelled after the faun we first met planting apple seeds.

The gorgeous writing and fraught symbolism will engage serious readers with a philosophical bent.

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