First reaction, I kid you not: What just happen?!
Muir Woods or Bust by Ian Woollen has to be one of the most unique books I read this year and I can honestly say I am still trying to process what happened and the themes that came from the story. The book follows a middle-aged therapist, Gil Moss, in the near future as a new mental health issue sweeping the globe: Eco-mood disorders. This phenomenon happens as climate change continues to ravage the earth causing catastrophic weather events in virtually every part of the world. Or so it seems because the main character himself has hallucinations about the destruction of the Earth via catastrophic natural disasters. We start by following Gil as he is abducted by one of his clients, Doyle who used to be an actor for an anti-environmental program. This provides instant issues with Gil because his wife was closely tied to the Earth Liberation Front before she passed away and Gil himself seems to land (while not too extreme) on the side of pro-environment. The story follows them as the two journey west in search of the Muir Woods and the revival of that once popular anti-environmental TV show.
Well actually, the book jumps between different perspectives which includes Gil, a book the that Gil wrote (and was lost) about John Muir, his son Chum, his son’s video game about vampire nurses, and an eager graduate student named Amanda who wants to use Chum’s programming and storytelling ability to sell the idea to an entrepreneur out in California. The bits and pieces from each perspective change adds details and layers to the main storyline of Gil, but it is pretty jarring the first couple of times it happens. The writing style between the actual events happening, the recollection of the Muir book, and the vampire video game is quite distinct and rightly so. At first read, it almost seems like the passages are from separate books and put together. But the parts do have common threads and comes together at various points, all tying together at the end.
The concept of eco-mood disorders is one of the most interesting pieces of the novel. While it still is unclear whether or not it is a real thing in the book, it did resemble aspects of posttraumatic stress disorder. Eco-mood disorder is a result of global warming and the common occurrences of catastrophic weather events. Due to living in that type of environment, people develop intense anxiety and triggers around these weather events. For example, the main character Gil has triggers pertaining to earthquakes which prevents him from traveling west and impacts his sleep. The reason why I find this aspect of the story so interesting is because… this could be a reality. We have already seen research done on the impact of systemic racism and the impact of poverty of a person’s mental health – Is climate change and the potential/real trauma it brings so far fetched? Particularly for communities who are disproportionally impacted by climate change. We may not see it in the near future or we may not even code it as a different disorder, but even in this work of fiction, I thought to myself, “It could happen.”
This book is truly odd – and in a good way I think. I found myself having to reread certain parts to find the connection in the overall story. The drastic changes in writing style kept me on my toes and distracted me at the same time. There is no other way to describe the feeling – you will have to read it for yourself. If you are looking for a book with a fresh writing style and a story that you would not read normally, check out Muir Woods or Bust by Ian Woollen.
Final Rating: 3.7/5