Jean Hegland’s curious future fantasy Into the Forest challenges the reader. It confronts two teenage girls, Nell and Eva, with an extraordinary series of catastrophes, and yet seems to seek a positive message in the courageous and almost implausibly stoic way in which they deal with isolation, near-starvation, rape and death. Hegland relies in part on the behavioral models presented by the girls’ parents, first present and then absent, to explain their exceptional ability to survive conditions of life, which most people would find intolerable.
Tobias Wolff’s memoir, This Boy’s Life, is filled with colorful characters and comic incident, and yet has a more grounded and realistic tone than Hegland’s tale. The author, as a young boy and then a teenager, shares none of the bravery and moral fiber of Hegland’s Nell and Eva. In fact, his behavior is problematic throughout the narrative. The parental context for young Toby is a shattered one; a struggling mother paired ...
... middle of paper ...
...by turns up at the paternal home near the conclusion of the story. It can hardly be denied, however, that his pure absence affects Toby’s life, if only by creating the space for the destructive father figures who replace him. Toby’s mother, while constantly present, might easily be absent for all the influence she has on the boy. In Into the Forest, the models of behavior provided by Nell and Eva’s parents, who linger influentially after their deaths, are powerful in shaping the girls’ reactions and decisions. The reader is left in some doubt, however, whether the final decision, to retreat into the trees – to “enter the forest for good” (241) – is either wise or realistic.
Hegland, Jean. Into the Forest: a Novel. New York: Bantam, 1998. Print.
Wolff, Tobias. This Boy's Life: a Memoir. New York: Grove, 1989. Print.
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