November 4, 2013
Review By Michael Egan
STRUGGLES OVER THE use of British Columbia’s natural resources are a ubiquitous feature of the province’s historical landscape. How we should manage our lumber, fisheries, water, and minerals —and who should manage them – mark recurrent debates in the provincial legislature and throughout communities dependent upon these resources for their livelihood. In Clearcut Cause, Steve Anderson offers an account of an environmental protest gone wrong. Set just outside Kaslo, British Columbia, snuggled between Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park and Kootenay Lake, Anderson’s novel presents both sides of a logging dispute. Local environmentalists – disparagingly called “greenies” by the logger – put up a roadblock in order to prevent the cutting of a stand of trees on the edge of a park along Keen Creek. The standoff, then, becomes a showcase for the disparate positions present in a local environmental dispute. On the one hand, logging contractors and their employees are feeling the pressure of new environmental legislation that has eaten into their profits and so they are desperate to get out the cut. On the other hand, protesters see only further destruction of the environment and are critical of the money-first mentality that drives the logging industry. Anderson offers fair treatment of both perspectives and invites his readers to witness parties on both sides of the debate.
But in his efforts to be even-handed, Anderson falls into a difficult trap. Too much of his story is simplistic to the point that it does little to hold the reader’s attention or interest. The characters rarely reach beyond their stereotypes. The loggers are, for the most part, honest, hard-working, blue-collar types who work hard, cuss often, love their children, and just want to do an honest day’s work. The environmentalists are a combination of university-educated ecologists and hippies, not terribly organized but resolute nonetheless. A few characters attempt to blur these categories, but they don’t succeed. In addition, the dialogue is at times hopelessly contrived. Anderson lets his characters do much of the talking for him, but because none of these characters is particularly complicated, their manufactured dialogue establishes their rationale for behaving the way they do, but it is more informative than it is compassionate. In sum, Anderson does little to provoke his readers’ sympathies or passions.
And the story ultimately offers precious little. Rather than letting the stand-off ferment to a complicated crescendo, the novel’s climax is abrupt, far-fetched, and predictable, its dénouement even more so. Further, Anderson conveys little sense of the natural landscape that serves as the backdrop to this book. This is beautiful country and it warrants a story, but the wonders of these forests are lost behind Anderson’s wooden characters and their mundane chatter.