A new novel from the author of the acclaimed Glaciers tracks a young woman’s return home to investigate a secretive community that has mysteriously rescued an island devastated by natural and chemical disaster—as well as taken hold of one of her oldest friends.
“Eerie and intriguing . . . captivates in the first few pages and delivers a gripping, compelling story throughout.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Smith’s excellent command of language gives life to arresting characters and their creepy surroundings, keeping the suspense in this dark environmental thriller running high.”—Elle
It has been twenty years since Lucie Bowen left the islands—when the May Day Quake shattered thousands of lives; when Lucie’s father disappeared in an explosion at the Marrow Island oil refinery, a tragedy that destroyed the island’s ecosystem; and when Lucie and her best friend, Katie, were just Puget Sound children hoping to survive.
Now, Katie writes with strange and miraculous news. Marrow Island is no longer uninhabitable and no longer abandoned. She is part of a community that has managed to conjure life again from Marrow’s soil. Lucie returns. Her journalist instincts tell her there’s more to this mysterious “Colony” and their charismatic leader—a former nun with an all-consuming plan—than its members want her to know. As she uncovers their secrets, will Lucie endanger more than their mission? And what price will she pay for the truth?
“Beautifully wrought.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
“Engrossing and atmospheric, a thorny meditation on environmental responsibility with a big haunted heart.”—Laura van den Berg,Miami Herald
This was my last glimpse of Marrow Island before the boat pulled away: brown and green uniforms clustered on the beach, tramping up the hill to the chapel and through the trees to the cottages of Marrow Colony. The boat wasn’t moving yet, but the uniforms already seemed to be getting smaller, receding from my sight, shrinking into a diorama, a miniature scene of the crime.
Carey had helped me into the boat. I sank to the wheelhouse deck and curled into myself, sitting knees to chest, spine to prow. Joshua Coombs was calling out on the radio, requesting an ambulance to meet us in Anacortes. Katie tried to come aboard, but Carey hollered something to her and she ran back up the dock. He squatted next to me and spoke softly, just by my ear.
“We need to take off your clothes.”
They were soaked through; I wouldn’t be warm until I was dry. I understood that this was first aid; I understood that he was doing his job as the park ranger. I just didn’t have it in me to participate in my own rescue. I was spent, scraped, and bruised. I leaned into him, eyes closing.
“Stay awake, Lucie,” he said. “A little longer. Listen to my voice.”
He lowered me carefully to my back, his parka under my head, and called to Coombs for scissors.
Carey kept talking, narrating as he undressed me, threading one arm through a sleeve, gently rolling me, tugging the shirt up my torso, lifting my head. I knew his hands were on me, but through my cold flesh they felt like the mitts of a giant, huge and heavy. He took off my socks ?— ?my shoes were long gone, in the field? in the ruins? in the woods? ?— ?and cradled my heel in his palm as he lowered it to the deck. My thoughts had stopped making sense; I tried to visualize Carey’s words as he spoke, I have to cut these off. Then he slid the small sharp scissors up the outside of my leg through my jeans. He hesitated around my hip.
“Please try ?— ?can you be very still?” he asked.
I was shivering uncontrollably. He rubbed my legs up and down under a blanket, telling me about circulation, about blood, about heat. I drifted.
“Stay awake, Lucie.”
Coombs was starting the boat. Katie came back with more blankets. Carey told Katie to get down on the deck and wrap herself around me. She lay down beside me on Carey’s parka, pulled me into her body, and rubbed my arms and back. He covered us both with the two blankets.
I breathed into the wool as the boat lurched through the swells, nausea rising up instantly. Katie seemed never to stop panting from her run up the shore. The bass beat of her heart, the thrust of the boat through the waves, and the feeling of fullness at the back of my throat. I wanted to purge everything inside me, but my bearings held.
“Don’t let her go,” I heard Carey say.
At the hospital in Anacortes, they treated me for hypothermia, but they were confused; I was going through more than one kind of shock. Carey told them I’d been lost on Marrow Island overnight ?— ?he didn’t know the rest of it yet ?— ?and they saw his uniform and took his word. When they asked me what and when I had last eaten, I shrugged, though I remembered my last meal well ?— ?the mussels, the heady broth, the bread, the wine, and the birch liquor ?— ?and the cramps in my stomach that started not long after. The memory of food brought on the first hunger pangs; the craving for energy, for heat, my metabolism waking up. They were so strong they stabbed at my guts, but the nausea lingered. I couldn’t imagine putting something in my mouth, tasting, swallowing.
Katie told the intake nurse she was my sister, and I didn’t correct her. They let her sit by my bed all night.
“I’m not leaving you alone with her,” Carey told me. She was standing right beside him when he said it, but she didn’t defend herself. I didn’t know what to say; I wanted them both.
Katie held my hand for hours, while my temperature rose and patches of my flesh became livid. I could feel the drunken movement of blood and plasma through my body, my cheeks throbbing, my toes and fingers buzzing. My breasts felt like meat cold from a locker. Eventually Katie slept, head next to mine, nose to my cheek, like when we were girls, like that first night after the quake, clinging to each other under a Mylar sheet in the gymnasium. I listened to her sleep; I felt her moving through her dreams.
Carey sat in a chair by the door, waiting for the sheriff, though he shouldn’t have ?— ?he should have been back on Marrow at his post, taking the state troopers through the woods, writing official reports. Soon enough everyone would be looking for all of us, with questions. But they would find what they were looking for at the Colony without our help. And by the time they asked me to tell my part, they would have a story of their own and they wouldn’t veer from it, no matter the details I offered.
My notes were probably already in the sea or burnt to ashes. I tried to reconstruct the days in my mind, building a timeline, sorting details, drawing up the images of pictures I had taken, of things I had seen. I cataloged the different scents in the layered stench I gave off: conifer needles, stump rot, burnt lichen, fungi spores ?— ?all washed with the yeasty brine of bodies. Mostly my body. But other bodies, too.
In the weeks after, back in the city, I woke alone in my third-floor apartment every morning. Outside, buses lumbered down Fremont Street, shopkeepers turned over their Open signs, people drank their coffee, checked their phones, walked their dogs. The city repeated its relentless, noisy cycle just like it had every day before and after that week I spent on Marrow. I listened, I watched. After the May Day Quake, over twenty years before, Seattle had rebuilt itself, from concrete rubble heap back to silver city, lessons learned, so we tell ourselves. Otherwise, what was the point of it all? What unlikely comfort we find in the refrain build, destroy, repeat. There are always survivors left to pick up the pieces. There’s always someone to tell the tale.
I had my own refrain: I told the story of those days on Marrow hundreds of times in the first few months ?— ?to the state police and the FBI, the grand jury, to my fellow journalists, to the editors who wanted me to write a book, even ?— ?because of Sister J. ?— ?the archbishop of the Seattle Diocese. I answered their questions honestly, and all the details were true, but the telling began to feel like a betrayal. I told them the story and they typed it up and it became tabloid-television lurid. Marrow Colony as cult. Marrow Colony as failed utopia.
Build, destroy, repeat.
From my hospital bed, from my apartment, from the courtroom, I saw Marrow...
Pacific Northwest Book Award Winner
Winner of the Lambda Literary Awards—Bisexual Fiction
An Indie Next Pick (June 2016)
One of Elle's "19 Summer Books That Everyone Will Be Talking About"
One of BookRiot's "Most Anticipated Reads of 2016"
One of Refinery29's "Best Books of 2016 So Far"
"Smith's excellent command of language gives life to arresting characters and their creepy surroundings, keeping the suspense in this dark environmental thriller running high."—Elle, "19 Summer Books That Everyone Will Be Talking About"
"Alexis M. Smith's Marrow Island is transporting."—Vanity Fair
"A faltering journalist returns to an island abandoned after an earthquake released a toxic spill. That's the beautifully wrought setting of this novel, which reunites two childhood friends, one of whom has joined a sect claiming it can heal the land."—O, The Oprah Magazine
"This alluring novel explores the darkness of love, how it can cajole you into danger or tip your actions toward cruelty. Clean but intoxicating writing...Ambitious."—New York Times Book Review
"Too often novels that scratch at environmental disaster become pigeonholed as dystopia or sensational science fiction. It’s a skillful writer who can overcome this problem of genre. Alexis M. Smith, whose debut novel, Glaciers, was a stealth cult hit, is an elegant writer to watch. Her Marrow Island is an ambitious literary novel with an intensely personal core."—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Smith's book captivates in the first few pages and delivers a gripping, compelling story throughout....There's a consistent feeling of the fragility of life and loss — from the large disasters that devastate a region to the personal losses of relationships and friendships — and the healing that occurs after these events."—Milwuakee Journal Sentinel
"Marrow Island is ambitious and provocative. This eloquent and soft-spoken novel explodes as it confronts eco-terrorism, natural disasters, and radical Catholicism...This spellbinding novel takes unexpected turns as it races to its final scene. This book mines the wells of forgiveness and passion."—Signature Reads, "10 Overlooked Books of 2016"
"Excellent...Smith’s story carries the same heft, descriptive nuance, and narrative spark that distinguished her debut [Glaciers], but this time, she more finely hones her characters’ emotional rhythm and atmospheric location to create a thoroughly eerie reading experience capped off with a startling conclusion."—Publishers Weekly, starred and boxed review
"A stunning novel about sacrifice for the sake of survival in the aftermath of natural and man-made disasters...In graceful and dolorous prose, she captures a dense and dramatic landscape, evoking questions of what it means to harm -- ourselves, our surroundings -- and to heal. Engrossing eco-fiction, eerie and earnest." —Kirkus
"A compelling, complex meditation on both the power and the vulnerability of the natural world."—Booklist
"Tucked into this suspenseful plot are stunning and important reflections on nature and the environment, its awe-inspiring power and the many ways humanity both detracts from that power and willfully ignores it—and how that shapes our lives." —Shelf Awareness
"[Marrow Island] is weird and glorious and I loved it. Different from Glaciers, but still wonderful. Marrow Island is about a journalist who returns to her home island to possibly report on a sketchy environmental colony that has set up residence on the island, and to visit her childhood best friend, who is one of the colony’s residents."—BookRiot, "Our Most Anticipated Reads of 2016"
"Engrossing and atmospheric, a thorny meditation on environmental responsibility with a big haunted heart."—Miami Herald, “What do you recommend?” by Laura van den Berg
"An eerie, haunting mystery."—Woman’s Day
"A foreboding, compelling story of humanity's uneasy relationship with nature and with each other, told in lyrical language that continually propels the reader further in...Between the suspense of the story and Smith's poetic prose...Marrow Island is a gripping read."—St.Louis Post-Dispatch
"A wonderfully bewitching story, Alexis M. Smith's second book is as amazing as her first. This novel weaves together her skill with character and a delicious thread of intrigue and mystery. The voice is simply beautiful, and I can't wait to reread this one."—Powell's Midyear Roundup, "The Best Books of 2016 So Far"
"A beautifully written, slightly sinister piece of post-disaster fiction set in the Pacific Northwest...It’s fascinating, and Smith’s intimate biological knowledge of the region, together with her shimmering prose, makes for a novel as beautiful as Annie Dillard’s The Living, but far more suspenseful."—Ellis Avery, Public Books
"Wrenching and limpidly written...Smith is excellent at showing the terrible things people can do for the sake of their ideals...A near-perfect read."—Library Journal
"Marrow Island [is a] marvelously spun post-disaster story. The author reaches into the depths of our connections to our pasts, our loved ones, [and] our devotions."—My Edmonds News
"[Marrow Island] is moody and atmospheric, and her [Smith's] descriptions are stunning...It's quite an immersive reading experience."—Fourth Street Review
“Conjuring a lush and mysterious landscape, Marrow Island investigates the impact of the losses of the past—be they loved ones, failed quests, or the environmental calamities brought on by our collective blindness. By turns elegiac, compelling, and timely, it seeks real answers and finds the possibility of miracles. This is a beautiful novel.” —Edan Lepucki, author of California
"Returning to the islands of her youth, Lucie Bowen finds her long-lost soulmate caught up with a mysterious commune called Marrow Colony and finds herself with no choice but to face the painful past. At once a page-turner and a sustained lyrical meditation on a beloved landscape, this novel also shines a spotlight on the anxieties of living in a world with such environmental uncertainties. The depth of what we possess—and what we stand to lose—is achingly drawn." —Amanda Coplin, author of The Orchardist
"I was already happy to count myself among Alexis Smith's admirers, but Marrow Island has brought me to a new level of fandom. From the intricately suspenseful plotting, the remote and intoxicating atmosphere, and the haunted, flinty heroine at the center, this novel absorbed me with the force of a
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