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Overview

Notes From Your Bookseller

Pulitzer Prize finalist Daniel Mason takes readers on a journey through American history via the inhabitants of a single plot of New England land. This is ultimately a story of how we are all connected, through our environment and our history, and is one that should not be missed.

NATIONAL BESTSELLER ¿ A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW TOP TEN BOOK OF THE YEAR

A WASHINGTON POST TOP TEN BOOK OF THE YEAR ¿*FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD


A sweeping novel about a single house in the woods of New England, told through the lives of those who inhabit it across the centuries-“a time-spanning, genre-blurring work of storytelling magic” (The Washington Post)*from the Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Piano Tuner and The Winter Soldier.

“With the expansiveness and immersive feeling of two-time Booker Prize nominee David Mitchell's fiction (Cloud Atlas), the wicked creepiness of Edgar Allan Poe, and Mason's bone-deep knowledge of and appreciation for the natural world that's on par with that of Thoreau, North Woods fires on all cylinders.”-San Francisco Chronicle


New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice ¿*A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: Time, The Boston Globe, NPR, Chicago Public Library, The Star Tribune, The Economist, The Christian Science Monitor, Real Simple, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Bookreporter

When two young lovers abscond from a Puritan colony, little do they know that their humble cabin in the woods will become the home of an extraordinary succession of human and nonhuman characters alike. An English soldier, destined for glory, abandons the battlefields of the New World to devote himself to growing apples. A pair of spinster twins navigate war and famine, envy and desire. A crime reporter unearths an ancient mass grave-only to discover that the earth refuse to give up their secrets. A lovelorn painter, a sinister con man, a stalking panther, a lusty beetle: As the inhabitants confront the wonder and mystery around them, they begin to realize that the dark, raucous, beautiful past is very much alive.

This magisterial and highly inventive novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Daniel Mason brims with love and madness, humor and hope. Following the cycles of history, nature, and even language, North Woods shows the myriad, magical ways in which we're connected to our environment, to history, and to one another. It is not just an unforgettable novel about secrets and destinies, but a way of looking at the world that asks the timeless question: How do we live on, even after we're gone?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 07/31/2023

Mason (A Registry of My Passage upon the Earth) follows the inhabitants of a secluded western Massachusetts home and their tragedies across centuries in this spectacular ghost story. In the 1760s, the eccentric and twice-widowed Charles Osgood, who’s obsessed with finding the best apple in the world, discovers a stellar tree on abandoned land and from there starts an orchard. His two daughters, Mary and Alice, keep the orchard going but Alice’s long line of potential suitors sparks murderous rage in Mary, who doesn’t get the same attention as her sister. The letters of the next owner, hyper-naturalistic landscape painter William Henry Teale, recount his expansion of the house and his slowly confessed, eventually consummated but doomed love for his friend Erasmus Nash. Circa 1920, the ghosts of Teale and Nash torment Emily Farnsworth, until her button magnate husband invites charlatan medium Anastasia Rossi to the house, and her seance unexpectedly conjures real spirits. The Farnsworths’ daughter, Lillian, struggles later with her schizophrenic son, Robert. In her later years, she joins a prison pen pal program and narrowly escapes a grisly fate. As time passes, others are drawn to the house for personal reasons that all end in tragedy. Throughout, Mason interleaves his crystalline prose with enchanting and authentic-seeming historical documents, including a Native American captivity narrative, psychiatrist case notes, and pulpy true crime reportage. Each arc is beautifully, heartbreakingly conveyed, stitching together subtle connections across time. This astonishes. Agent: Christy Fletcher, Fletcher and Co. (Sept.)

From the Publisher

Dazzling . . . a brave and original book, which invents its own form. It is both intimate and epic, playful and serious. To read it is to travel to the limits of what the novel can do.”The Guardian (US)

“A time-spanning, genre-blurring work of storytelling magic . . . Each chapter germinates its own form while sending out tendrils that entwine beneath the surface of the novel . . . As [Mason] floats through thrillers, a bit of comic noir, erotic paranormal fiction and other genres, it’s hard to imagine there is anything he can’t do . . .”The Washington Post

“Gorgeous . . . a tale of ephemerality and succession, of the way time accrues in layers, like sedimentary soil.”—NPR

“Brilliantly combines the granularity of realism with the timeless, shimmering allure of myth . . . Sui generis fiction . . . The forest and the trees: Mason keeps both in clear view in his eccentric and exhilarating novel.”The New York Times Book Review

“It seems almost a magic trick, the way in which Mason knits his lives into a single tale.”—Erica Wagner, The Sunday Times

“A treatise on forest management (and mismanagement), a hallucinatory dream sequence, and an anthropologist’s life’s work all rolled into one. North Woods fires on all cylinders by engaging all the senses as it transports readers through history.”San Francisco Chronicle

“A tender lament for our vanishing earthly paradise. . . . it’s hard not to come away feeling a bit wistful, seeing what we’ve lost and imagining what lies ahead in our probably dystopian future.”The Boston Globe

“Enthralling . . . the bigger point of North Woods is how much is forgotten or never known. This resonates at a time when Americans are arguing about what version of history students should be taught.”The Economist

“This is . . . a cunningly contrived and beautifully intricate book . . .”The Scotsman

“[A] magisterial mosaic . . . Truly triumphant.”Booklist, Starred Review

 “It’s a dazzling high-wire act—and it’s thrilling to read . . . There are a lot of great books coming out this fall but, if I were you, I’d start with this one.”The Star Tribune

North Woods is a monumental achievement of polyphony and humanity . . . I loved it.”—Maggie O’Farrell, New York Times bestselling author of Hamnet

North Woods is the most original and spellbinding novel I’ve read in ages. Mason makes bramble, brush, and orchard come alive with the spirits of their unforgettable former inhabitants. Their lives . . . had me glued to my seat.”—Abraham Verghese, New York Times bestselling author of The Covenant of Water

“Ambitious, alive, and lush . . . I emerged from this book as though from an enchanted forest, covered in leaves and changed by what I had seen there. . . . Electrifying.”—Tess Gunty, author of The Rabbit Hutch

North Woods is a sui generis work of pure brilliance, an epic written with a miniaturist’s precision. Daniel Mason has unearthed . . . a universal story of loss and reclamation. It’s the best book I’ve read in ages.”—Anthony Marra, author of Mercury Pictures Presents

“Mason depicts all of [the] stories with sympathy, sensitivity, and affectionate humor. Epic in scope and ambitious in style, this book succeeds on all counts. Highly recommended.”Library Journal (starred review)

“Readers, too, will find themselves in an entrancing fictional realm . . . Like the house at its center, a book that is multitudinous and magical.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Each arc is beautifully, heartbreakingly conveyed, stitching together subtle connections across time. This astonishes.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

North Woods is a love poem to the human and natural history of Western Massachusetts . . . wise, profound, chilling, carnal and funny.”BookPage

Library Journal

★ 07/01/2023

This remarkable new novel from Mason (The Winter Soldier) is the story of the United States from precolonial times through the present day and beyond, from the perspective of a single house in Western Massachusetts. As the often-tragic tales of its various residents are recounted, Mason employs an array of literary styles and genres, including the Indigenous-abduction narrative, folk ballads, letters, true-crime pulp journalism, insect erotica, and contemporary speculative fiction. Beginning with young lovers running away from their Puritan community, the novel visits (among others) an obsessive apple cultivator and his eccentric twin daughters, a landscape painter whose friendship with a writer blossoms into forbidden love, a phony clairvoyant who for the first time detects real spirits, and a man with schizophrenia who is aware of the ghosts inhabiting the property. Throughout, and especially during times when the house lies vacant, the natural history of the land over time is compellingly portrayed. VERDICT Although the novel spends varying amounts of time with each successive set of characters, Mason depicts all of their stories with sympathy, sensitivity, and affectionate humor. Epic in scope and ambitious in style, this book succeeds on all counts. Highly recommended.—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2023-06-21
The story of a house, the humans who inhabit it, the ghosts who haunt it, and the New England forest encompassing them all.

In the opening chapter of the fourth novel by Mason—a Pulitzer Prize finalist for A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth (2020)—a pair of rebellious young lovers flee their Puritan Massachusetts village to seek refuge in the “north woods”: “They were Nature’s wards now, he told her, they had crossed into a Realm.” Readers, too, will find themselves in an entrancing fictional realm where the human, natural, and supernatural mingle, all captured in the author’s effortlessly virtuosic prose. Across the centuries, the cabin built by those lovers will transform and house a host of characters, among them Charles Osgood, a British colonist who establishes an apple orchard there; Osgood’s twin daughters, Alice and Mary, whose mutual spinsterhood conceals a bitter jealousy; and Karl Farnsworth, an avid hunter who sees the land as a “sportsman’s paradise” in which to open a private lodge (he hopes to host Teddy Roosevelt despite the “vile” sounds his distraught wife hears in the old structure). Many chapters read like found historical documents, including one side of the correspondence between painter William Henry Teale and his friend Erasmus Nash, a poet, whose visit to the north woods house will have an unexpected impact on both their lives—and those of future inhabitants. Elsewhere we find “Case Notes on Robert S.,” in which a psychiatrist pays a house call to a resident suffering from possible schizophrenia and given to auditory hallucinations while wandering the forest; and “Murder Most Cold,” a dispatch by TRUE CRIME! columnist Jack Dunne, summoned from New York to look into a gory death on the property. Throughout, this loose and limber novel explores themes of illicit desire, madness, the occult, the palimpsest of human history, and the inexorable workings of the natural world (a passage recounting the fateful mating of an elm bark beetle is unforgettable), all handled with a touch that is light and sure.

Like the house at its center, a book that is multitudinous and magical.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940178253861
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 09/19/2023
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 257,871

Read an Excerpt

One

They had come to the spot in the freshness of June, chased from the village by its people, threading deer path through the forest, the valleys, the fern groves, and the quaking bogs.

Fast they ran! Steam rose from the fens and meadows. Bramble tore at their clothing, shredding it to rags that hung about their shoulders. They crashed through thickets, hid in tree hollows and bear caves, rattling sticks before they slipped inside. They fled as if it were a child’s game, as if they had made off with plunder. My plunder, he whispered, as he touched her lips.

They laughed with the glee of it. They could not be found! Solemn men marched past them with harquebuses cocked in their elbows, peered into the undergrowth, stuffed greasy pinches of tobacco into their pipes. The world had closed over them. Gone was England, gone the Colony. They were Nature’s wards now, he told her, they had crossed into a Realm. Lying beneath him in the litter, in the low hollow of an oak, she arced her head to watch the belted boots and leather scabbards swinging across the wormy ceiling of the world. So close! she thought, biting his hand to stifle her joy. Entwined, they watched the stalking dogs and met their eyes, saw recognition cross their dog-­faces, the conspiring shiver of their tails as they continued on.

They ran. In open fields, they hid within the shadows of the bird flocks, in the rivers below the silvery ceiling of the fish. Their soles peeled from their shoes. They bound them with their rags, with bark, then lost them in the sucking fens. Barefoot they ran through the forest, and in the sheltered, sappy bowers, when they thought they were alone, he drew splinters from her feet. They were young and they could run for hours, and June had blessed them with her berries, her untended farmer’s carts. They paused to eat, to sleep, to steal, to roll in the rustling meadows of goldenrod. In hidden ponds, he lifted her dripping from the water, set her on the mossy stone, and kissed the river streaming from her tresses and her legs.

Did he know where he was going, she asked him, pulling him to her, tasting his mouth, and always he answered, Away! North they went, to the north woods and then toward sun-­fall, trespassing like fire, but the mountains bent their course and the bogs detained them, and after a week they could have been anywhere. Did it matter? Rivers carried them off and settled them on distant, sun-­warmed banks. The bramble parted, closed behind them. In the cataracts, she felt the spring melt pounding her shoulders, watched him picking his way over the streambed, hunting creekfish with his hands. And he was waiting for her, winged in a damp blanket which he wrapped around her, lowering her to the earth.

They had met in, of all places, church. She had known of him, been warned of him, heard that he stirred up trouble back in England, had joined the ships only to escape. Fled Plymouth, fled New Haven, to settle in a hut on Springfield’s edge. They said he was ungodly, consorted with heathens, disappeared into the woods to join in savage ritual. Twice she’d seen him watching her; once she met him on the road. This was all, but this was all she needed. She felt that she had sprung from him. He watched her through the sermon, and she felt her neck grow warm beneath his gaze. Outside, he asked her to meet him in the meadow, and in the meadow, he asked her to meet him by the river’s bank. She was to be married to John Stone, a minister of twice her age, whose first wife had died with child. Died beaten with child, her sister told her, died from her wounds. On the shore, beneath the watch of egrets, her lover wrapped his fingers into hers, made promises, rolled his grass sprig with his tongue. She’d been there seven years. They left that night, a comet lighting the heavens in the direction of their flight.

From a midwife’s garden: three potatoes. Hardtack from the pocket of a sleeping shepherd. A chicken from a settler’s homestead, a laying chicken, which he carried tucked beneath his arm. My sprite! he called his lover in the shelter of the darkness, and she looked back into his eyes. He was mad, she thought, naked but for his scraps of clothing, his axe, his clucking hen. And how he talked! Of Flora, the dominion of the toad and muck-­clam, the starscapes of the fireflies, the reign of wolf and bear and bloom of mold. And around them, in the forest, everywhere: the spirits of each bird and insect, each fir, each fish.

She laughed—for how could there be space? There’d be more fish than river. More bird than sky. A thousand angels on a blade of grass.

Shh, he said, his lips on hers, lest she offend them: the raccoon, the worm, the toad, the will-­o’-
the-­wisp.

They ran. They married in the bower, said oaths within the oaken hollow. On the trees grew mushrooms large as saddles. Grey birds, red snakes, and orange newts their witnesses. The huckleberries tossed their flowers. The smell of hay rose from the fern they crushed. And the sound, the whir, the roar of the world.

They ran. The last farms far behind them; now only forest. They followed Indian paths through groves hollowed by fire, with high green vaults of celestial scale. On the hottest days, they climbed the rivers, chicken on his shoulder, her hand in his. Mica dusted her heels like silver. Damselflies upon her neck. Flying squirrels in the trees above them, and in the silty sand the great tracks of cats. Sometimes, he stopped and showed her signs of human passage. Friends, he said, and said that he could speak the language of the people this side of the mountains. But where were they? she wondered. And she stared into the green that surrounded them, for fear was in her, and loneliness, and she didn’t know which one was worse.

And then, one morning, they woke in the pine duff, and he declared they were no longer hunted. He knew by the silence, the air, the clear warp of summer wind. The country had received them. In the Colony, two black lines were drawn through two names in the register. The children warned of thrashings if they spoke of them again.

They reached the valley on the seventh day. Above them, a mountain. Deer track led through a meadow that rose and narrowed northly, crossed through the dark remnants of a recent fire. A thin trail followed a tumbling brook to a pond lined with rushes. Across the slope: a clearing, beaver stumps and pale-­green seedlings rising from the rich black ash.

Here, he said.

Songbirds flitted through the burn. They stripped their last rags, swam, and slept. It was all so clear, so pure. From his little bag, he withdrew a pouch containing seeds of squash and corn and fragments of potato. Began to pace across the hillside, the chicken following at his feet. At the brook, he found a wide, flat stone, pried it from the earth, and carried it back into the clearing, where he laid it gently in the soil. Here.

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