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The New Wilderness
Cover of The New Wilderness
The New Wilderness
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SHORTLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE 2020

"THE ENVIRONMENTAL NOVEL OF OUR TIMES" —Lemn Sissay, Booker Prize Judge


"The New Wilderness is a virtuosic debut, brutal and beautiful in equal measure."
—Emily St. John Mandel, New York Times bestselling author of Station Eleven


Margaret Atwood meets Miranda July in this wildly imaginative debut novel of a mother's battle to save her daughter in a world ravaged by climate change; A prescient and suspenseful book from the author of the acclaimed story collection, MAN V. NATURE.

Bea's five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is slowly wasting away, consumed by the smog and pollution of the overdeveloped metropolis that most of the population now calls home. If they stay in the city, Agnes will die. There is only one alternative: the Wilderness State, the last swath of untouched, protected land, where people have always been forbidden. Until now.

Bea, Agnes, and eighteen others volunteer to live in the Wilderness State, guinea pigs in an experiment to see if humans can exist in nature without destroying it. Living as nomadic hunter-gatherers, they slowly and painfully learn to survive in an unpredictable, dangerous land, bickering and battling for power and control as they betray and save one another.

But as Agnes embraces the wild freedom of this new existence, Bea realizes that saving her daughter's life means losing her in a different way. The farther they get from civilization, the more their bond is tested in astonishing and heartbreaking ways.

At once a blazing lament of our contempt for nature and a deeply humane portrayal of motherhood and what it means to be human, The New Wilderness is an extraordinary novel from a one-of-a-kind literary force.

SHORTLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE 2020

"THE ENVIRONMENTAL NOVEL OF OUR TIMES" —Lemn Sissay, Booker Prize Judge


"The New Wilderness is a virtuosic debut, brutal and beautiful in equal measure."
—Emily St. John Mandel, New York Times bestselling author of Station Eleven


Margaret Atwood meets Miranda July in this wildly imaginative debut novel of a mother's battle to save her daughter in a world ravaged by climate change; A prescient and suspenseful book from the author of the acclaimed story collection, MAN V. NATURE.

Bea's five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is slowly wasting away, consumed by the smog and pollution of the overdeveloped metropolis that most of the population now calls home. If they stay in the city, Agnes will die. There is only one alternative: the Wilderness State, the last swath of untouched, protected land, where people have always been forbidden. Until now.

Bea, Agnes, and eighteen others volunteer to live in the Wilderness State, guinea pigs in an experiment to see if humans can exist in nature without destroying it. Living as nomadic hunter-gatherers, they slowly and painfully learn to survive in an unpredictable, dangerous land, bickering and battling for power and control as they betray and save one another.

But as Agnes embraces the wild freedom of this new existence, Bea realizes that saving her daughter's life means losing her in a different way. The farther they get from civilization, the more their bond is tested in astonishing and heartbreaking ways.

At once a blazing lament of our contempt for nature and a deeply humane portrayal of motherhood and what it means to be human, The New Wilderness is an extraordinary novel from a one-of-a-kind literary force.

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Awards-
About the Author-
  • Diane Cook is the author of the novel, THE NEW WILDERNESS, which was longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, and the story collection, MAN V. NATURE, which was a finalist for the Guardian First Book Award, the Believer Book Award, The Pen/Hemingway Award, and the Los Angeles Times Award for First Fiction. Her writing has appeared in Harper's, Tin House, Granta, and other publications, and her stories have been included in the anthologies Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. She is a former producer for the radio program This American Life, and was the recipient of a 2016 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, daughter and son.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 16, 2020
    In this wry, speculative debut novel (after the collection Man v. Nature), Cook envisions a crowded and polluted near future in which only one natural area remains, the Wilderness State. Twenty people volunteer for a government experiment in how humans fare in the wilderness—it’s been so long since anyone tried that no one remembers. Among the volunteers are Glen, “an important person” at a university; his wife, Bea; and Bea’s daughter, Agnes, and they, along with the others, collectively called “The Community,” learn to eke out a precarious existence hunting with bows and arrows, tanning animal hides, and negotiating dangerous terrain. As the years pass unmarked other than with Bea noticing a fourth annual appearance of violet blossoms, the volunteers gradually abandon their commitments to the study, though they remain expected to obey rules enforced by Rangers—never stay in one place longer than seven days, never leave a trace—as members die off. More waitlisted refugees, called Newcomers, arrive from the city, and Bea perseveres, driven by hope for Agnes’s future. Cook powerfully describes the Community members’ transformation from city folk to primal beings, as they become fierce, cunning, and relentless in their struggle for survival and freedom, such as when Bea faces off with a mother coyote. Cook’s unsettling, darkly humorous tale explores maternal love and man’s disdain for nature with impressive results.

  • Kirkus

    June 1, 2020
    In a dystopian future, a woman and her daughter leave behind the increasingly unlivable conditions of the all-consuming City, where most of the population is trapped, to join a survival study in the Wilderness State. As part of the study, Bea and Agnes have been members of the Community since it began when Agnes was a "frail, failing little girl." The Community, originally 20 adults and children before various births and deaths, travels the wild as a ragtag pack, rife with typical internal politics. Members carry their few possessions on their backs and eat what they can forage and kill by hand or bow, leaving no human traces in their wake. They live according to the Manual, watched over from afar by the Rangers who make sure everyone follows the Manual's rules. Bea misses aspects of her urban life, however difficult it was, but her powers of psychological observation make her "good at this survival thing." Agnes, whose "health cratered" from breathing City air--the reason Bea joined the study--is now vitally healthy, with a natural instinct for primitive skills. As she tells the grown-ups, "follow the animals." The viewpoint shifts over time from prickly, tormented Bea, whose romantic loyalties are unclear but whose motherly protectiveness is fiercely all-consuming, to Agnes, who grows up in a world where natural order trumps human-made rules. The push-pull of ambivalent but powerful love between mother and daughter centers the novel. Cook writes about desperate people in a world of ever shrinking livable space and increasingly questionable resources like air and water but also about the resilience of children who adapt, even enjoying circumstances that overwhelm the adults around them. Cook also raises uncomfortable questions: How far will a person go to survive, and what sacrifices will she or won't she make for those she loves? This ecological horror story (particularly horrifying now) explores painful regions of the human heart.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from August 1, 2020
    In her gripping and provoking debut novel, Cook extends the shrewd and implacable dramatization of our catastrophic assault on the biosphere that she so boldly launched in her short story collection, Man v. Nature (2014). Interior designer Bea, ferociously pragmatic, is determined to save her ailing young daughter, Agnes, from the City's toxic smog, so her professor husband signs them up for an experiment involving people living in the Wilderness State as nomadic hunters and gatherers. As they endure deprivation and terror, recreate this ancient way of life, and experience moments of transcendence in nature's glory, Rangers police them from trucks and helicopters, making them feel like lab rats. As fiercely precise and intimate as Cook's physical descriptions are, the novel's edgy bewitchment is generated by her characters' elaborately elucidated psychological struggles. Bea is admirable and monstrous. Agnes grows strong, emotionally perceptive, and precocious in the ways of the wild. Alternating as narrators, they illuminate the primal complexities of the mother-daughter bond as well as the battles for dominance within the group. Violence, death, tribalism, lust, love, betrayals, wonder, genius, and courage?all are enacted in this stunningly incisive and complexly suspenseful tale akin to dystopian novels by Margaret Atwood and Claire Vaye Watkins. When Cook finally widens the lens on her characters' increasingly desperate predicament, the exposure of malignant greed, deceit, and injustice resonates with devastating impact.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

  • Hey Alma—Favorite Books for Summer "An imaginative, dystopian look at what our world could become...I was gripped by how vivid the story was, how expertly Diane Cook got into the dynamics of a group of strangers surviving in the wild, and their relationship with those in power."
  • San Francisco Chronicle "Violence, death, tribalism, lust, love, betrayals, wonder, genius, and courage—all are enacted in this stunningly incisive and complexly suspenseful tale akin to dystopian novels by Margaret Atwood and Claire Vaye Watkins. When Cook finally widens the lens on her characters' increasingly desperate predicament, the exposure of malignant greed, deceit, and injustice resonates with devastating impact."
  • Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review) USA Today—5 Books Not to Miss: "The buzz: "A gripping adventure that denies its readers easy answers, 'The New Wilderness' is an important debut," says a ???? (out of four) review for USA TODAY."
  • USA Today (four stars) "Her writing is deceptively simple, beautifully corporeal . . . "
  • San Francisco Chronicle "Cook captures not only the push-pull intimacy particular to a mother and child, but the way all relationships come with conflict and contradictions. Whatever the future holds, may Cook write some more books in it."
  • Times Literary Supplement (London) "Could this be the great climate change novel of our time? Buzz is building fast for the epic debut novel of Diane Cook."
  • The Guardian "The book manages to have a driving plot at the same time that it supports big themes, like the best speculative fiction can do. And now it's on the longlist for the Booker Prize. The New Wilderness deserves its place there."
  • Shelf Awareness "A dazzling debut...Cook takes command of a fast-paced, thrilling story to ask stomach-turning questions in a moment when it would benefit every soul to have their stomach turned by the prospect of the future she envisions. I, for one, was grateful for the journey."

  • Entertainment Weekly "Cook writes about desperate people in a world of ever shrinking livable space and increasingly questionable resources like air and water but also about the resilience of children who adapt, even enjoying circumstances that overwhelm the adults around them. Cook also raises uncomfortable questions: How far will a person go to survive, and what sacrifices will she or won't she make for those she loves?This ecological horror story (particularly horrifying now) explores painful regions of the human heart."
  • Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review) "The emotional core of the story is the relationship between Bea and Agnes, whose perspectives drive the narrative. It's a damning piece of horror cli-fi, but it's also a gripping and profound examination of love and sacrifice."
  • Buzzfeed "A soulful, urgent debut...The push-pull ambivalence of Bea and Agnes's bond forms its beating heart...What lingers, beyond the awesome power of Bea and Agnes as heroines, is pure wonderment at all in this world of ours that is not human."
  • Caoilinn Hughes (Orchid & the Wasp/The Wild Laughter)  "An absolutely riveting and propulsive novel. Terrifying, and as real as can be. Epic in scale and story; granular and recognisable in people and place. The New Wilderness is surely an instant classic in our stories of survival, sovereignty and adaptation. Cook's writing is so sure-footed, prescient and trustworthy, it's all the reader can do to follow her. For fans of Ling Ma's Severance and Hernan Diaz's In the Distance, and many, many readers in between."
  • Rachel Khong, author of GOODBYE, VITAMIN "THE NEW WILDERNESS left me as stunned as a deer in headlights. Gut-wrenching and heart-wrecking, this is a book that demands to be read, and urgently. With beauty and compassion, Diane Cook writes about the precariousness of life on this planet, about the things that make us human — foremost the love between mothers and daughters, at once...
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