Every now and then, you take a chance, and it pays off in spades. I think the cover of Rebecca Campbell’s Arboreality caught my eye on NetGalley, but I’m not sure what it was about the description that drew me in. I have some faith in Stelliform Press, which didn’t hurt. In any case, I downloaded the book, and now, some weeks later, have read it. It’s an eye opener.
The book starts slowly, with a number of moments that pull back from the story, and drew me away from the characters. The first story, strongly climate-change oriented, is nonetheless beautifully written. When the second story addressed some of the same issues, in the same locations, I got a bit worried, thinking, Oh no, it’s going to be a big slab of message fiction, (having forgotten the book was from Stelliform, and that climate fiction is what they do). But at the third story, I finally caught on that this was a series of interconnected stories (which is clearly stated in the description, but by the time I came to read it, I’d forgotten). And, despite the setting and recurring theme, they’re if not always upbeat, at least uplifting.
In truth, the book works more as a novel of strong chapters than a collection of stories. The same characters turn up, the locations are connected, the world is the same, and the overall book tells (or at least begins) the story of an entire community. The magic in it is that Campbell’s touch is so deft and sure that almost every chapter/story stands on its own, yet taken together, they add up to much more.
It’s been a long time since I’ve come across prose this good. There are minor stumbles here and there – some jarring changes in perspective as Campbell pulls way back – but by the end, I was more than willing to let them slide for the sheer beauty of the language and the characterization. Instead, I’m both disappointed by not having had time to read short SFF (outside Metaphorosis) and thus found Campbell earlier, and eager to read all the other work she’s written.
With all that said, this is a book that asks for patience and contemplation – it’s a book to savor, not to rush through, and one that I think will repay re-reading to get the most of the web of relationships. If you’re a fan of rich prose and warm characters, you’ll love this.
I suppose it doesn’t hurt that I live in Tillamook County, Oregon – specifically called out in the book. Not for a reason I support, but it’s always interesting to see your own neck of the woods referred to.
I can’t say I’m sold on the title, though. A tree known as golden arbutus forms much of the connecting tissue of the stories (in more ways than one), and the scene dividers are little arbutus leaves. I’d have expected that to be in the title, and it felt like it was meant to be. ‘Arboreality’ is clever, but to me, suggests an entirely different story than these turned out to be. Regardless, they’re beautifully written, and well worth your time.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.