Book Review: Caroline Allen’s ‘Earth’

earth: a novel by caroline allen

The Osage were divided into two tribes: the Earth people and the Sky people, each with their own inherent powers.

Quotes such as these begin each section of “Earth”a novel by Caroline Allen and the first installment in her elemental journey series. As promised, the book takes the reader into the depths of what it means to be close to the earth through the perspective of Pearl, a narrator followed from the age of 12 through the age of 22 through the story of someone with such a clear connection to the earth it belies reality.

Pearl’s point of view is clear and raw; it’s refreshing for the reader to find herself inside the head of a character who knows herself yet sees herself in everyone: as her repetitive mantra signifies, not There but for the grace of God go I but There go I. It’s a strange, foreign, wonderful and sometimes frightening place to be, contrasts that Allen pulls off with grace and finesse.

Pearl’s story is, indeed, a story of contrasts. An abusive father, absentee sister, defeated mother, crazy aunt in whose footsteps Pearl fears following, with her out-of-body visions that connect her to the native Osage that so intrigue and haunt her– all come second to her relationship to the earth. This is a girl for whom home and family are not in a place or a person, but in land. “It isn’t done” to touch in her home, to hold or be held; her family becomes the willow tree on the side of the highway where she takes refuge; her home is the farmland that is her sanctuary but where her father makes her choose her own switch when she disappoints him. It is an earth described as brutal, raw, cold, but in spite of — or perhaps because of — all these things, it is Pearl’s one true love throughout the story.

Allen’s descriptive prose is infectious from the first page — it is thanks to this that Pearl’s intrinsic relationship to the earth comes alive: “Scratchy cornstalks, the crimson suddenness of obese tomatoes, heavy watermelons on bulky vine, green beans in stuttered formation, bulbous onions exposed beneath soil, rows and rows of abrasive leaves and sweating half-­‐‑grown food.”

For Pearl, the more rural, the more raw the earth is, the realer it is; this is presented in stark contrast with her mother, also a child of rural poverty, who wants nothing more than to distance herself from the earth. As her mother does so, pushing Pearl from the earth in the process, Pearl loses her grasp on reality and on herself.

In her visions, Pearl describes herself as a tree — “a crooked tree with twisted, eccentric roots.” Through her visions, she becomes one with the earth; as she distances herself from it, she finds herself seeking out that connection she once had: “I wanted to get out of the truck, go into the forest, lie on my back and let mud seep into my bones. I wanted to dissolve into the fractal forest, bits of me speckled into bark, measurements of me absorbed in roots, breaths of me sparking kindling. I wanted to merge.”

Pearl’s journey is far from over by the end of the story, but the conclusion is satisfying, particularly given that the reader is left with the hope for Air, the second book in the series; the conclusion of this first tome invites us to posit the next step for Pearl, which is sure to bring even more of the evocative, descriptive prose that keeps the reader tumbling through this intriguing universe that Allen has created.

Earth is available for purchase via Amazon.

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Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.