Book Review: Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur
Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur is the story of a woman named Vale who returns to her hometown in rural Vermont in search of her missing mother, Bonnie. Along the way, the story touches on the lives of several generations of women in Vale’s family and the role of climate change in the storm that led to Bonnie’s disappearance.
While this novel has several interwoven themes, it is first and foremost a story about women, family, and the distinct sense of place and history that helps bind this particular family together. The story unfolds in three successive eras as three generations of women living on Heart Spring Mountain navigate the joys and sorrows of life, love, family, and everything in between. The chapters alternate between the different eras, telling several separate life stories that eventually come together into a single complex family history focused primarily on the women of the family. The rich imagery paints a vivid picture of life in rural Vermont, and the engaging inner narratives of the characters over the course of their various adventures draw the reader into the novel.
Heart Spring Mountain is also the story of how these women’s lives were forever changed by the landfall of Hurricane Irene in 2011. This makes it one of the few works of climate fiction to explore the impacts of a real-life storm and connect those impacts explicitly to climate change.
The characters in this novel aren’t actively responding to climate change in a political way. They’re not proposing climate solutions or facing any climate catastrophes beyond those that already exist today in the real world. Any readers looking for a heavy-handed climate-themed political thriller or disaster story will want to look elsewhere.
Instead, this novel is part of a growing trend in climate fiction that uses a more traditional literary narrative to tell a story that happens to include climate change as a major theme. The characters are living their lives, in all of their authenticity and rich complexity, when the arrival of this storm pushes the main character, Vale, to contemplate the role of climate change in the disappearance of her mother and the world generally.
Heart Spring Mountain is an excellent example of how the theme of climate change is increasingly making its way into traditional literary fiction — to the benefit of both the literary community and climate change discourse. People in real life are increasingly understanding and contemplating the role of climate change in their lives and the world, so it’s only fitting that contemporary literature should reflect this trend in various ways. Even novels that aren’t specifically focused on climate change should address “the climate question” in some way due to the extent to which it affects all aspects of contemporary life.
Heart Spring Mountain isn’t at all a heavy-handed work of climate fiction, yet it still makes valuable contributions to climate change discourse. Fiction that explore real-life storms and disasters is an important and personally compelling way for people to process such events and their broader implications. The plot, characters, and settings of this novel are all interesting and entertaining in their own right, and the inclusion of a socially relevant theme like climate change enhances what readers can get out of this novel. Readers who just picked up the novel for the sake of a good read won’t be disappointed. And readers who are looking for climate change narratives will hopefully find that the references to a real-life storm with climate change implications makes for a fascinating and rewarding read.
Whether you’re looking for climate fiction or just looking for a good story, I definitely recommend checking out Heart Spring Mountain.