BOOK REVIEW: Marrow Island

Jul 7, 2017

This is KLCC.  I’m Connie Bennett, Director of Eugene Public Library, with a book review of “Marrow Island” by Alexis M. Smith.

In her lyrical and compelling new novel, Portland based author Alexis Smith walks the tightrope of multiple genres without falling into any easily stereotyped style.  Is “Marrow Island” a mystery? Science fiction? A commentary on cults, or Catholic education?  A screed against the petroleum industry?  A love story?  Well, yes… and, no.

“Marrow Island” is told in the first person by Lucie Bowen, a troubled young woman who left the San Juan Islands twenty years ago, following a massive earthquake which killed her father.   In beautiful naturalistic detail, the story alternates between the present – a fire lookout in Malheur National Forest in 2016 – and the trip Lucie took two years previously to revisit her past in the San Juans.

The book is experienced as a straightforward novel, and it’s only in retrospect that one begins to wonder exactly where truth blends into fiction.  Smith displays considerable mastery in interweaving both of the two recent timelines with Lucie’s perhaps unreliable memories of her childhood.  She has the reader thinking about how we, as humans and as a culture, survive traumas… and what happens if we find we cannot survive.

The book has been compared to Mandel’s “Station Eleven” – which I reviewed on KLCC a couple of years ago – but I found them very different.  Smith’s “Marrow Island” is more personal, immediate, real.  It’s grounded in our own Pacific Northwest experiences – oil refineries and interns from Evergreen, forest fires and mushrooms.  

And that very realness makes it the more disquieting.

This is KLCC.  I’m Connie Bennett, reviewing “Marrow Island” by Alexis Smith.