The Mother Earth (Godsmack, 1)
by Josie Peterson
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Print Length: 356 pages
Reviewed by Duncan Riles
A moving thriller with crime, passion, and peace found only in the natural world
Worn thin by his shady dealings with money-laundering criminals and grieving the loss of his boss/lover Gregory, accountant Yahn Marynaugh escapes Philadelphia for a more peaceful life.
He goes into hiding in the Pennsylvania countryside where he hopes to nurse himself back to health with his best friend, George, as his guru. At once a thriller and a work of literary eco-fiction, Yahn’s is a story about the healing power of Gaia, “The Mother Earth,” and the way the earth brings people together as Yahn seeks help from his new nature-loving neighbors, Brian and Maxine. Under their tutelage, Yahn deepens his relationship with the earth and finds healing, but trouble waits just around the corner.
While Yahn believes that he eluded the criminal outfit that pursued him after his lover’s death, the varied cast of global heroin barons is actually close by, and they haven’t forgotten him. Nicky Scaffola, with ties to La Cosa Nostra, works with his Scottish lover, Cassius McFarland, and their “cook” Sal Bryant, (who is having an affair with another member of their gang) to “cook” a dangerously pure batch of heroin in a nearby barn.
While Yahn learns subsistence farming from his pagan neighbors and nutrition, tai-chi, and tender love from his friend George, a series of shadow-government dealings and complicated lovers’ quarrels bring the diverse cast together in a surprising and violent confluence. The twists and turns of the ending are both exciting and baffling as the city and capitalism are pitted against love and a paganist passion for the earth.
With a large and wide-ranging cast of intricately depicted characters, the plot of Godsmack I: The Mother Earth, is a complex web of backstory and impeded plans. Peterson’s plot twists keep the reader hooked and bring the characters to unexpected realizations.
Though the turn from urban crime thriller to work of eco-writing about a third of the way through the book may feel abrupt, Peterson weaves these two disparate threads together logically and powerfully. And though at times the large and intimately detailed cast and fast-paced action may lead to some confusion, it all comes together more clearly by the end. The message, one of unity, not just with one another, but with The Mother Earth herself, only becomes more relevant when these varied worlds meet.
Godsmack I: The Mother Earth contains a diverse group of characters, a veritable melting pot of gender, sexuality, race, age, and ability. It features a politics of acceptance and even encouragement toward normalizing homosexuality.
However, even with this bent toward inclusivity, some readers may not feel seen.
A number of characters are introduced by their race and ethnicity, or by being transgender. In the first chapter, Yahn meets “Dionysus, a seventeen year old black kid,” and later, “two young Korean-American men.” Two members of the criminal organization are introduced as: “Dominick Vorga… well-built African American adopted son” and “Habib Ghita, the part Indian, but mostly Pakistani, Interpol agent.” These characters’ introductions draw attention to race and ethnicity, but stand in stark contrast with the introductions of Yahn and other white characters which do not always include their race or ethnicity. Yahn is, however, introduced as having “white cheeks,” but it is not until page 43 where he is described as Caucasian. Though the story features a varied cast, white characters are at the center, which may make it less approachable for a non-white audience.
In a similar way, Maxine’s confusing speech patterns are “momentarily broken from her autism to ordinary speech.” Maxine is a fun character to read, fully realized on the page, but at times, the reminders of her “autism,” such as this one, feel othering.
Nevertheless, Godsmack I: The Mother Earth has all the momentum and vibrant energy that make a book difficult to put down. The shifting perspectives and omniscient narrator allow the reader to dip into each main character’s mind, even the evil ones, and find a bit of empathy. It is a book that asks the reader to do as Yahn Marynaugh does and step away from the chaos and violence in the world, plant a garden, and grow.
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