From the Publisher:
When a young woman leaves her family—and the civilized world—to join an off-the-grid community headed by an enigmatic leader, she discovers that belonging comes with a deadly cost, in this lush and searing debut novel.
At nineteen, Berie encounters a seductive and mysterious man at a bus station near her home in North Carolina. Shut off from the people around her, she finds herself compelled by his promise of a new life. He ferries her into a place of order and chaos: the Ash Family farm. There, she joins an intentional community living off the fertile land of the mountains, bound together by high ideals and through relationships she can’t untangle. Berie—now renamed Harmony—renounces her old life and settles into her new one on the farm. She begins to make friends. And then they start to disappear.
Thrilling and profound, The Ash Family explores what we will sacrifice in the search for happiness, and the beautiful and grotesque power of the human spirit as it seeks its ultimate place of belonging.
The first thing that drew me to this book was the cover – then I read the description and knew I was all in. I have a thing for reading books that are set in communes, and I was super excited to start this one.
Idealistically, a commune sounds like a beautiful thing, one that appeals to my crunchy granola type nature. Off-grid living, living off the land, baking your own bread every day, enjoying the fruits of your labors all sounds so back to the basics, pure, wholesome. Except sometimes ideas can get twisted up and ugly, sometimes they can take a wrong turn. Berie meets Bay at the bus stop after a spur of the moment decision to not get on the plane that will take her to college. She is unsure of where she wants to go or what to do, and suddenly, an answer appears. Bay tells her that there is a rule about going to the farm – you either stay three days or you stay forever. When Berie’s three days are up, she doesn’t leave.
Berie is a person adrift, wanting to stay at the farm and be part of something bigger, part of the wilderness, part of this family hidden away in the hills, yet has a hard time letting go of her “fake” life, as the community refers to the rest of the world. Their life on the farm is real, all else is fake. Dice is their leader, their “father”, and has a magnetic personality that compels those around him to want to please him, to follow his wishes, no questions asked. He is doing penance for the crimes against the earth that he committed in his “fake” life, before he started the farm. A man committed to the “real” world he has created, yet has a fondness for soap scented with artificial pine while living among actual pine trees. He has rules and doctrines that the family must live by, with some pretty steep punishments. There are no possessions, everything belongs to everyone, there are no couples, no children are allowed. No pharmaceutical medicines, if you get sick or injured it is all folklore remedies. No talking about your life before, and heaven forbid the rest of the family think you are shirking your duties. It is a hard life, but they are doing what they feel they need to do. And the family’s desire to protect the planet is extreme – they are not just a band of happy hippies, they are eco-terrorists, cooking up more than jam on the farm. They make bombs, and bullets, and not only are they not afraid to use them, they are looking for the opportunity.
Berie does her best to fit in, but while she is 99% brainwashed, she still isn’t completely sold. She realizes she is an empty vessel, waiting for someone to fill her up with what she needs to do and be, and she feels that her place is on the farm, tending the sheep. Even before the farm, she seemed to live her life by what her boyfriend wanted, how he saw her through his lens. I found her a bit unlikable – her decisions didn’t only affect her, and she makes some pretty bad ones. Also, her mother is this huge shadowy figure, whom we never actually meet. Berie portrays her as some sort of villainous figure, yet her memories don’t seem to support this. Again, what is the truth?
This book was amazing – it kept me guessing, and totally off balance. I didn’t know truth from a lie, a friend from a foe, or what was really happening behind the scenes. I wanted to keep reading and reading, I wanted to know what the heck was the real story, in this story of fake and real.
Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the advance copy!
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.