This is a fun novel. It’s an inventive, creative romp through the American psyche, starting in the Midwest, with Midwest heart. Somehow it manages to wrap together John Muir being injured in an accident, visitations from a dead wife, a video game about vampires, a broken-down actor trying to make a comeback, and a psychologist who is seeing more and more Eco-Mood disorders and decides to chuck it all and look for a new life. So, it’s cli-fi (climate fiction) and a whole lot more too.
Somehow, all the disparate plot skeins make sense, as they weave into and out of each other, and the characters try to make sense of what to do next with their lives. And while the plots and people may be weird, Woollen always cares about the characters as people and makes you care too. I’ve read all three of his novels. They share a delight with quirky people, odd plots, with writing that engages the reader. More, please.
This excerpt should give a feeling for the book. Gil, the main character gets ready for work, talks to his son Chum.
Before leaving, he peered into his son’s bedroom.
“Wassup, Dad?” Chum pulled off his headphones and cheerily spun around in his fancy Aeron chair. Peanut butterencrusted crumbs scattered onto the floor. “Yo, what’s with the noose?”
“Trying to look like I know what I’m doing,” Gil said. “Are you planning on going to class today?” Chum squinted quizzically, as if the phrase “going to class” did not compute.
“Too busy finishing my new game,” he said. “I’m naming it Phantom Vampire. An homage to Mom. You know, phantom load and vampire load. The electricity that gets siphoned off by all our appliances every day, the collateral damage that consumers inflict on the planet without knowing it. The game features a global sickness, Phantom Vampire Disease—the human species sucking the lifeblood from the Earth.”
As the 21st century lurches forward, weather weirdness abounds, begetting the rise of a new psychiatric syndrome: Eco-Mood Disorders. Or so psychologist Gil Moss believes. Of course, Gil is also hallucinating visits from his recently deceased wife, an Earth Liberation Front activist. And from 19th-century environmentalist John Muir. Abducted at gunpoint by Doyle Wentworth, an elderly client who played John Muir in a satirical, anti-environmental FAUX-TV miniseries, Gil journeys westward via freight train, private jet, and stolen automobile, aided and pursued by colorful figures from Gil’s and Doyle’s pasts. Destination: Muir Woods and the auditions for the revival of Yosemite Yahoos. Soon after Gil leaves Bloomington, his reclusive son Chum is also dragged west by Gil’s former student Amanda to pitch his video game Phantom Vampire to Amanda’s billionaire ex. A vision quest for the ages. Gil wants to tell you all about it, including the story of his great-great-aunt healing young John Muir from a grisly blinding in an industrial accident in 1867. But computer problems and selective amnesia have stymied Gil’s attempts. Until this unexpected cross-country spree leads him, and his fellow travelers, to their true callings.