Straw­berry Fields

Hi­lary Plum

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - JEFF FLEISCHER

Fence Books (APRIL) Soft­cover $15.99 (224pp) 978-1-944380-03-8

In Hi­lary Plum’s Straw­berry Fields, myr­iad mem­o­rable pro­tag­o­nists re­port on tragedies from hotspots around the world with vivid lan­guage. Though many of the point-of-view chap­ters are only loosely con­nected, they add up to a bleak but well-ren­dered pic­ture of global de­struc­tion.

The novel moves through many of the ma­jor crises of the early twenty-first cen­tury. Lo­ca­tions in­clude Iraq dur­ing the US in­va­sion, New Or­leans after Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, and Pak­istan un­der con­stant drone war­fare.

The main pro­tag­o­nists are a jour­nal­ist and a de­tec­tive in­ves­ti­gat­ing the mur­der of five Iraq War vet­er­ans, but their per­spec­tives al­ter­nate with plenty of oth­ers. By de­sign, the novel de­scends into a morass of painful sit­u­a­tions and help­less ob­servers. Rather than merely in­ves­ti­gate the mur­ders, the book uses them as a jump­ing-off point to ex­plore other ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the same for­eign pol­icy that was their root cause.

Few nov­els fea­ture so many works of jour­nal­ism cited in the cred­its. For re­search, Plum used real re­porters’ im­pres­sions of the crises that her fic­tional equiv­a­lents nav­i­gate. Her nar­ra­tors are out­side ob­servers; her lyri­cal first-per­son writ­ing is plau­si­ble as their work.

One heart­break­ing chap­ter tells of a ne­glected zoo, the hor­ri­ble things done there, and the ex­treme mea­sures re­quired to keep the few starv­ing an­i­mals left alive. An­other takes the form of a let­ter to a dead jour­nal­ist’s wife, de­scrib­ing his ac­ci­den­tal death from fall­ing into an elec­tri­fied wa­ter­way. Oth­ers deal with the shady machi­na­tions of a con­tract­ing mer­ce­nary force or fo­cus on a jour­nal­ist in a Mex­i­can jail try­ing to send a mes­sage to the out­side world.

The sub­ject mat­ter is uni­ver­sally dark, but also very re­al­is­tic, mak­ing Straw­berry Fields work as a thinly fic­tion­al­ized ver­sion of global chaos.

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