“The thing about grace is that you don’t deserve it. You can’t earn it. You can only accept it. Or not.”
A father and daughter living in the remote Appalachian mountains must reckon with the ghosts of their past in Kimi Cunningham Grant’s These Silent Woods, a mesmerizing novel of suspense.
No electricity, no family, no connection to the outside world.
For eight years, Cooper and his young daughter, Finch, have lived in isolation in a remote cabin in the northern Appalachian woods. And that’s exactly the way Cooper wants it, because he’s got a lot to hide. Finch has been raised on the books filling the cabin’s shelves and the beautiful but brutal code of life in the wilderness. But she’s starting to push back against the sheltered life Cooper has created for her—and he’s still haunted by the painful truth of what it took to get them there.
The only people who know they exist are a mysterious local hermit named Scotland, and Cooper’s old friend, Jake, who visits each winter to bring them food and supplies. But this year, Jake doesn’t show up, setting off an irreversible chain of events that reveals just how precarious their situation really is. Suddenly, the boundaries of their safe haven have blurred—and when a stranger wanders into their woods, Finch’s growing obsession with her could put them all in danger. After a shocking disappearance threatens to upend the only life Finch has ever known, Cooper is forced to decide whether to keep hiding—or finally face the sins of his past.
Vividly atmospheric and masterfully tense, These Silent Woods is a poignant story of survival, sacrifice, and how far a father will go when faced with losing it all.
Not sure how I bumbled into this one. It’s not lost on me—Finch—(in this case) the young daughter and relationship of father-daughter of classic Harper Lee fame. (And I must admit difficulty in separating the name from this narrative.) This gripping literary novel, of course, only borrows the unusual name. There is the strongly bonded connection but is otherwise quite the opposite in character and plot.
Cooper and Finch have lived in severe isolation in the Appalachian woods. Off the grid, off the track, off almost any public connection. But there are two: Jake, Cooper’s former army buddy and the owner of the cabin, and Scotland. And then two events happen almost simultaneously that will have a strong, irreversible impact on their sheltered lives. First, this is the first year in eight that Jake has not shown up with a laundry list of household essentials; groceries, supplies they cannot grow or sustain themselves. And in his stead is Jake’s sister, Marie.
And then there is the discovery of a beautiful young woman on their land next to national forestry land wielding a camera.
Scotland has always been a problem. From the beginning. Popping up at odd times, a nuisance, a pseudo-neighbor who watches, sees, and knows all about Cooper and Finch. His secret, their history. Cooper finds the man detestable while Finch loves him and is always delighted to see him. The two have a special connection.
Finch is precocious. A natural in the woods, schooled at home by her dad, she has never set foot in a store or a school. Knows only what she has gleaned from nature and the books in the cabin.
But their sanctuary is careening to an exposé and soon decisions must be made. Cooper is torn. For eight years he has protected, nurtured, and cherished his daughter and this moral choice is tearing him apart. The very essence of his teachings tested. Can he abandon all that now to continue a life that can’t be reconciled to the decision or bow to it and change possibly lose her?
Cooper made some bad decisions. He can’t afford for them to be discovered or all is lost. It’s a rather slow suspenseful building of the conundrum, a calamity of timing. Raw, emotional, tension-filled, with no apparent solution.
The author is a master storyteller, weaving her well-developed characters through Cooper’s POV, his wartime experience and trauma, the loss of Jake, his wife, the sacrifices he has made. He will NOT lose his daughter as well. Heartbreaking turmoil and beauty in the prose. The decision is made.
And then taken out of his hands.
The conclusion whips the mind around, at a loss to understand what just happened. And while I understand what did happen, I’m not totally understanding the why. Nor was it more fully explained to my satisfaction in the epilogue, which settled most loose strings (though perhaps it was enough for many readers). My mind is still reeling. Currently on pre-order. Queue up for yours!
A novel worthy of many a book club debate and one that will stick with you for some time. Most heartily recommended.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author and publisher through NetGalley (thank you!) that in no way influenced this review, nor could they warn of the impact. These are my honest thoughts.
Rosepoint Rating: Four point Five Stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Contemporary Literary Fiction, Coming of Age Fiction
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Print Length: 279 pages
Publication Date: November 16 2021
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
The Author: Kimi Cunningham Grant is the author of two books. Silver Like Dust is a memoir chronicling her Japanese-American grandparents and their internment during World War II. Her second book, Fallen Mountains, is a literary mystery set in a small town in Pennsylvania, where fracking has just begun. Kimi is a two-time winner of a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Prize in Poetry and a recipient of a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship in creative nonfiction. Her poems and essays have appeared in Fathom, Literary Mama, RATTLE, Poet Lore, and Whitefish Review. She studied English at Bucknell University and Messiah College. She lives, writes, and teaches in Pennsylvania. You can find her at https://www.kimicunninghamgrant.com.
©2021 V Williams