When my wife read ‘These Silent Woods’, she said, ‘It’s only January but I think I may already have read the best book of the year’. Long before I finished it, I agreed with her.
This is one of those books where, before you’ve understood the situation and the people, the quality of Kimi Cunningham Grants’ prose and Bronson Pinchot’s narration already have you hooked. The prose is vivid and engaging without being flashy or intrusive. You know you’re in the hands of a storyteller you can surrender yourself to. The narration matches the prose flawlessly: controlled, compelling, free of melodrama and all the more powerful for it.
In ‘These Silent Woods’ we meet a father, Cooper, who has raised his now eight-year-old daughter, Finch, alone in the woods, not just in isolation but in hiding, since she was a baby. It’s an intriguing puzzle. Why are they there? How can they stay there? What happens if they’re found? But rather than rushing to the puzzle, Kimi Cunningham Grant invites you to immerse yourself in the experience of living in the woods and to take the time to get to know Cooper and Finch and their hard-to-read but always-watching neighbour, Scotland, the only other person for many miles.
The first three-quarters of the book was spent getting me to fall in love with Finch who is bright, brave, immensely competent, insatiably curious, fundamentally hopeful and deeply attuned both to the woods and to the moments when her father falls into a darkness that makes him a prisoner of panic; and to build empathy for Cooper a man scarred by war and loss and bad decisions, burdened by guilt and grief who is redeemed by his love for his daughter.
It’s impossible not to become invested in Cooper and Finch. Not to be enchanted by the beauty of the world that Cooper has built for his daughter and not to be aware that that world is doomed because Finch is out-growing it and Cooper is so damaged by his past that he’s incapable of leaving it. The further you slip into understanding the fragile peace and tranquillity that Finch has grown up in, the more you understand how threatened her way of life is.
In the last quarter of the book, everything becomes more intense. There’s isn’t that mad scramble to reach the end that some thrillers have. It’s just that everything comes together in a way that seems inevitable and inescapable and unbearable all at the same time.
The bad things you’ve been subconsciously waiting for finally start to happen just at the point when a new person enters Cooper and Finch’s lives so that what should be the introduction of hope becomes a ratcheting up of what they are both at risk of losing.
The denouement was heart-wrenching and totally immersive. I defy anyone to take a break from reading in the last hour or so of this book. The need to know what will happen is as strong as the fear of finding out. I imagine many people, like me, will find themselves in tears before the end.
This was a wonderful read. Just meeting Finch would have put this on my Best Reads list but the rest of the story, including the skilful slow reveal of Cooper’s backstory lifts it to my ‘Tell Everyone To Read This’ list.
The only thing that didn’t quite work for me was the epilogue, which felt rushed by comparison to the rest of the novel. I think that you could delete the epilogue and the book wouldn’t suffer.
I recommend listening to the audiobook version of ‘These Silent Woods’. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample and you’ll see what I mean.
Kimi Cunningham Grant is the author of three 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. These Silent Woods, is her third book,Adapted from: https://www.kimicunninghamgrant.com
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 Literary Mama, RATTLE, Poet Lore, and Whitefish Review. She lives, writes, and teaches in Pennsylvania.
He now devotes most of his time to audiobook narration. He has more than 100 recordings to his name and has won multiple AudioFile Best awards.