by L.C. Fiore
Reviewed by Donna Meredith
Other writers have tried to take us into the minds of domestic terrorists, most recently Pearl Abraham, with American Taliban, John Updike, with Terrorist, and David Goodwillie, with American Subversive. Although these novels focus on attacks inspired by al-Qaida, the FBI lists ecoterrorism as the No. 1 threat in the U.S. It is this type of homegrown terrorist that L. C. Fiore explores in the novel Green Gospel.
Fiore takes us inside the mind of Edie Aberdeen, aka Edie Richards, who is college-aged, well-educated, and a true believer in her cause. We meet Edie when she arrives in Florida with a truckload of migrant workers, who steal her money. When she can’t pay for her ride, the coyote who ferried these illegals across the country tries to sexually assault this waif of a girl. In this, she becomes a victim and captures our sympathy.
Although Edie feeds dozens of stray cats and can hear trees weep when they are being cut, the story slowly reveals she is not the gentle person we first imagine. She was a tree-sitter in Oregon, spending over a week in the canopy to prevent loggers from felling the forest and suffering excruciating injuries when she fell to the forest floor. Over many long months, her boyfriend nurses her back to health with exquisite tenderness and devotion. Yet, she refers to him only as the Balinese, rather than by name, thus reducing his humanity.
Up to this point in the novel, we may still admire her. But Edie is guilty of a stunning act of betrayal, and is eventually revealed not as a victim, but as a young woman capable of extreme violence. She illustrates the problem with all terrorists: Innocent people are harmed by their actions.
As a runaway, Edie becomes involved with the residents of the town of Arcadia. A deputy and his wife still grieving over a lost daughter. Mae, the abandoned wife who has always been an outsider because of her weight. Mae’s war-damaged and violent husband, Vester, who immediately recognizes Edie as a kindred soul, someone with something dark to hide. Mae and Vester’s children, whom Edie comes to think of as her own. The Reverend Dancer, who wants to start a new movement, “a synergy between the gospel and a groundbreaking ministry of conservation,” but instead finds himself facing bankruptcy, both moral and financial. A small town sheriff with grand and heroic ambitions. How these lives become entangled leads to a conclusion that both surprises us and fulfills the promise of the story.
The novel contains hauntingly beautiful passages that read like poetry, and the characters are nuanced and achingly real. If there is a flaw—and many would not consider it one—it is in the use of a literary trend popularized by novels like Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. The lack of quotation marks for dialogue makes it difficult, at times, to distinguish between what is said aloud and what is narrated or internal dialogue. This technique can slow the pace when rereading a passage becomes necessary.
Green Gospel is a sharp reminder of the danger of any religion—whether God, Allah, or Nature is the object of worship—when advancing one’s beliefs takes precedence over respect for human life. Edie and the Reverend Dancer are both characters with good intentions and believers in just causes who commit evil acts. The novel remains ambiguous about whether these characters will be able to forgive themselves for their transgressions, and poses the age-old question of whether the end ever justifies the means.
L.C. Fiore has published stories in Folio, MAKE Magazine¸ Michigan Quarterly Review and Wascana Review, among others. An award-winning short-story writer and editor, Fiore has had his work appeared also on NPR and in various baseball annuals. This is his first novel.