Monday, February 15, 2016

'Isole' no more: A preview of Meg Little Reilly's soon-to-be released cli-fi novel "We are Unprepared"

'Isole' no more
A preview of Meg Little Reilly's soon-to-be released cli-fi novel "We are Unprepared"
by staff writer, with agency
The first thing you need to know about Meg Little Reilly's debut novel -- an emotional roller-coaster of cli-fi story set in a near future Vermont -- is that the narrator of the entire book is male, the husband of the novel's centerpiece couple, Ash and Pia. With a daring and splendid ventriloquist's knack for putting herself in Ash's voice as the narrator, Reilly pulls off a virtuoso feat of literary sleight of hand.

In fact, the very first page of the 300-plus page novel introduces the couple to readers, with Ash doing all the talking. This is a novel with a novel twist.

The book is set in the imaginary Vermont town of Isole. More on that at the end of this post. hint: it is pronounced ''EE so LAY''...
It's cli-fi, that's for sure, and it's a dystopian apocalyptic tale as well, but it ends on a note of hope and optimism. We are in uncharted territory, and Reilly gives us one heckuva ride.
You want cli-fi? I'll give you cli-fi!
But Reilly, 37, a former White House policy wonk in the Obama administration and a native of Vermont, is not lecturing here, and she is  not preaching to the choir. With echoes of the cli-fi of writers such as Liz Jensen (Rapture) and Barbara Kingsolver (Flight Behavior) , the Boston-based Reilly knows that that we are surely not prepared for what's coming down the road to the Climapocalypse, but she is also adamant to insist, via her cast of Vermont characters -- and they are characters, the real McCoys of that state's Northeast Kingdom qne other locales -- that we are not doomed.
To repeat: we are not doomed. It's that kind of novel.
You could call this a Vermont novel, in much that same way that Nathaniel Rich's cli-fi "Odds Against Tomorrow" was a Manhattan novel.
When  this reporter noted that Vermont figures in many recent novels lately, and asked Reilly -- who grew up in Brattleboro and knows the state from north to south, and all the rivers and valleys in between -- why Vermont is so popular as a location for cli-fi novels, she told me:
"For one thing, it's easy to fall in love with the stunning Vermont landscape, as I have in my life, but I don't believe that alone explains the abundance of climate fiction it has borne. Vermont is an incubator for activism and creativity and, importantly, it's a place where art is understood to be not a discrete and separate discipline, but an essential tool for activism. Brattleboro, in particular, has a storied history in the anti-war, civil rights, and back-to-the-land movements. It's a purposeful place."

"When I set out to write 'We Are Unprepared,' I wanted to explore the most intimate human costs of our changing earth. I had just left the White House and, while I was proud of the unprecedented environmental steps taken by the Obama administration, I was frustrated by the pace of progress and tyranny of corporate interests. Writing fiction was an entirely logical extension of my politics, if an unconventional one in Washington. That's the influence of my home state."

"Vermont's contribution to the climate movement is as distinct and artful as the landscape it serves, and there's hope yet for this Earth."
The Vermont location serves the author well, as she mines it for all it's worth, both as a place full of homespun locals and "rednecks" and as mecca that Yuppies from Boston and Manhattan have moved to to claim as their own piece of Paradise. There's Ash and Pia, a married couple who left New York for what they hoped would be a new start in life. And then there are the back-to-the-Earth people and even "Preppers" who want to live off the grid and prepare for what they feel could very well be the end of American civilization. The story also involves religious fanatics, government bureaucrats and idealistic hippies.
This is not your grandfather's Vermont. This is Meg Reilly's Vermont, in paperback, and it's safe to assume that the book will resonate first and foremost with Vermonters themselves, from Burlington to Marlboro, and with readers in the Northeast Kingdom especially eager to see for themselves what kind of tale Reilly has concocted.
But the book will resonate in Brookyn and Cambridge and Seattle, too.  The big question is: are you prepared? Are we prepared? The debate over man-made global warming is over, and after the recent COP21 United Nations climate talks in Paris, the future looks both promising and iffy. Reilly's novel asks you to choose, and you've got 29 chapters to make up your mind.
Okay, there's a storm, a big storm, and not just any old New England nor'easter creating havoc among the lobster pots of Maine and the posh Kennedy digs on Cape Cod. In fact, as Reilly describes it, it's the mother of all superstorms, and to emphasize its strength and destructiveness, she dubs it "The Superstorm" with a capital S.
Lights! Camera! Action!
This is not a ''Day After Tomorrow'' scenario but a warmed-over, storm-chased Vermont tale of the End of Days. Still, it ends on a note of hope. This is Reilly's message in a bottle, nicely packaged inside a smart cover and an affirmative back cover. Cli-fi novels don't get much bettet than this.
It's a love story about climate activists in a once-bucolic state, and not everything turns out pretty. But the way the author keeps at it, chapter after chapter, and never giving in to nihilism or despair, gives the novel it's character.
In an epilogue at the end of the book, Reilly turns to her readers on page 356 and says: "For woods wanderers and apocalyspe watchers alike, I hope you enjoyed this story."
I, for one, did. I take this debut novel as solid gold, something to tell your friends about.
And there's one other person I want to tell, too: Climate activist and Hollywood producer Marshall Herskovitz who went to college in New England and he knows Vermont well.
As one of Tinseltown's most outspoken and visionary producers, he is looking for hot properties to develop into cli-fi movies, and "We are Unprepared" is a book he needs to read. I hope he does. Taking an option on film rights doesn't guarantee a movie will ever get funded and greenlighted in a Hollywood that cares more about profits than prophets, but if anyone could turn Reilly's take into a feature movie (starring Leonardo DeCaprio and and Natalie Portman?), Herskovitz could.
Oh, and about that Vermont town's name where the novel is centered: Isole. Yes, it's isolated. But it's not isolated anymore.

Here's Meg:



 Meg is 37, and her two children are 2 and 4 years old. So the future is very much on the minds of their mother and father.

 When a reporter asked why she wrote the book so intriguingly in the voice of a male narrator, Meg replied: "The simple truth is that I wrote from a male POV because I have a
lot in common with the main character (I am from Vermont, and I am veru much connected to the
woods, etc.) but novel isn't autobiographical, and I thought I would
have more freedom to borrow from my own experiences without the fear
of too many literal comparisons if the protagonist was male. And I
believe that there's a universality to these experiences. That was the
original impulse, anyhow. I found that it was lots of fun to try to
write from a male POV, from the dialogue to the sex!"

 The name of the male narrator Ash, that is his full name, like the ash tree. His name is not Ashley.

 When asked about the title of the novel and how it came about and is there a difference between WE ARE UNPREPARED or WE ARE NOT PREPARED,  Meg told this blogger:"The title is my own. I began writing the story with this title [WE ARE UNPREPARED] in
mind. It's grammatically arguable, but I loved the idea of
"unprepared" as an official status. It seemed to me that "not
prepared" is a state defined by the absence of something. But, as a
culture, our unpreparedness (environmentally, logistically,
emotionally, existentially) is an active state that we've collectively

When aslked what it was like to write and complete her debut npovel, Meg replied: "I loved writing this book. It had been in me for a long time. It's
an expression of passion for the the natural world that shaped me. I
have a lot of work to do as a new novelist, but I feel confident that
my writing is best when it's at the intersection of politics and the
natural world. I read fiction that feels prescient and vital. I hope
to one day write such fiction. With the publication of this book, I
feel like I've been given the gift of time to try.''

 Future novels in the pipeline? "My next novel -- which is pouring out of me now -- is a very different
story in a different place, but with a similarly suspenseful and
consequential threat at its core.''

 COLLEGE AND GRAD SCHOOL:  ''As an undergraduate at the University of Vermont, I majored in
Geography and had a double minor of English and Sociology. My masters
degree from the George Washington University is in Media & Public

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