A shared love of the Utah landscape heals family wounds for two unlikely friends.
Zacharias Harker is a brilliant botanist and an aging recluse. Haunted by his mistakes and living without his wife and daughter for the past twenty years, he hatches the idea to write his magnum opus, a book on the implications of climate change for humanity focused on the wildflowers of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. Just prior to the tragedy of 9/11, he hires a young woman, Alba, to paint flowers for the book. Over the course of their unlikely friendship, Harker convinces Alba to return to Chile to learn the story, long hidden from her by her mother, of her father’s disappearance under Pinochet. Alba’s discovery of her family history and her experience listening to the stories of Chileans who have resisted a government ruled by fear inspire her return to Utah with renewed purpose. As America grows more distrusting of diversity, Alba commits her art to the protection of the environment and to a more inclusive meaning of family and belonging while she and her husband, John, strive to learn Harker’s hidden past and include him in their lives before it is too late. Rooted in the Mormon heritage of Utah but hemispheric in its reach, American Fork is a story of restoration and healing in the wake of loss and betrayal.
Advance praise for American Fork:
Spanning the mountain landscapes of the Great Basin and the coastal valleys of Chile, George Handley’s first novel American Fork explores deep personal questions: how can solace be found in the aftermath of personal betrayal or catastrophic loss? Are family ties merely an artifact of shared ancestry, or can we claim — and if needs be, renounce — kinship on the basis of personal affinity or revulsion? Does a spiritual connection to the earth replace or augment religious conviction? Replete with detail, Handley’s description of the ongoing debate between a believing young woman and a grizzled religious sceptic builds to a stunning but deeply moving conclusion. Following on the success of his environmental memoir Home Waters, Handley has here produced the most important ecological novel set in Utah since Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang.
–Paul Alan Cox, Goldman Environmental Prize Winner and TIME Hero of Medicine
This is a riveting story, beautifully written and skillfully told. It engages the reader in a fresh exploration of enduring themes of family and culture, nature and religion. It will change your perspective as it did mine.
–Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology
In this God-haunted story of a Job who has long since cursed God and the young Mormon artist who learns to reconstitute him, George Handley calls us forcefully to ponder where we as human beings begin and end. Where, in the glorious tangles of biology, ecology, genealogy, theology, mortal misery, and divine mystery can we be found, and who will, at last, do the finding? In this passionate environmental novel, Handley proposes a troubling, insightful, and deeply Mormon solution to the centuries-old question of theodicy: how could God possibly be good when our lives are, too often, broken by grief?
–Samuel Morris Brown, author of Through the Valley of Shadows: Living Wills, Intensive Care, and Making Medicine Human
We know that novels are fictional, so we see them as unreal, and yet the very best twine inextricably with our lives to become part of our reality. George Handley’s masterful American Fork unifies sadness and beauty, individuals and communities, humans and nature in profound and unforgettable ways. Alba and Mr Harker’s intersecting quests reveal (or remind) that everything is connected, everything significant, not only in the world of the book, but in our world, which is the same.
–Pat Madden, author of Sublime Physick
A leading voice in Mormon environmentalism—not an oxymoron—George Handley also speaks to the global ethics of stewardship. From his Utah home, he sees the world. Handley envisions a consilience of science, religion, and democracy—a gift of imagination in our current climate of danger.
–Jared Farmer, author of On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape
George Handley’s novel, American Fork, is a significant contribution to American letters. Handley is a familiar voice in Utah’s environmental movement. His creative non-fiction work, Home Waters, which explores the history and meaning of the Provo River drainage, has already become a classic in Western ecological literature. This new novel will place Handley among that small group of Western writers who have beautifully mastered both fiction and creative non-fiction in ways that make his work in both unforgettable. Like his previous books, Handley immerses you in a sense of place, and draws a rich portrait of the land and its people. American Fork expands on that vision in this splendid novel, which ranges from Utah’s Wasatch Front to the heart of Chile. From the opening scenes, we are pulled into the nuanced and captivating lives of the novel’s memorable characters, Zach Harker and Alba. And as we come to understand their complexity, fragility, and weaknesses we see a mirror of the same in the landscapes they inhabit. Handley has a created a modern classic. This will be read for a long time, but there is no sense in delaying the pleasure and depth this book will bring. Read it now.
–Steve Peck, author of The Scholar of Moab and Gilda Trillum: Shepherdess of Rats