Primitive Review

Mark Nykanen

Bell Bridge Books
$16.95, trade paperback, 384 pages
Release date: Oct. 1, 2009

Mark Nykanen’s Primitive remains a taut thriller despite glimpses of an earlier didactic draft about methane gas, global warming and environmental activism. A less talented author may have been seduced by the opportunity to educate readers and advance a cause, but Nykanen remembers the first duty of an author of fiction is to tell a good story.

The story centers on a model nearing the end of her career. Sonya is kidnapped by a group of environmental activists — or terrorists, depending on your viewpoint — called Terra Firma. The Abolanders, as they call themselves, take her to a secret village in the Pacific Northwest near the U.S.-Canada border. They release podcasts of Sonya in captivity, promising to release a secret U.S. government report on methane gas.The novel opens a few days into Sonya’s captivity as she struggles to escape through a narrow underground tunnel. From there, the novel backtracks to Sonya pre-kidnapping and introduces the reader to Sonya’s daughter, Darcy. Darcy, a free spirit at odds with her mother, brings a backstory meant to explain the mother-daughter tension, but which isn’t entirely needed. Darcy’s different worldview is enough to bring her into contact with more activists in her attempts to save her mother.

Darcy’s shifting attitudes toward Terra Firma allow readers to sympathize with the activists, and Sonya’s experiences in the village remind the reader of the extremes that lie within every group, whether the group is bound by concern for the environment, by religious beliefs or any specialized interest. Some members of Terra Firma want to escalate violence against the U.S. and use Sonya’s kidnapping as a tool to further their own prurient interests. Others genuinely want Sonya to understand the group’s belief system and alert the world to the growing dangers of climate change.

As Terra Firma becomes a major news story and dribbles of information about the secret report leak to the public, the temptation must have been there for Nykanen to pause in his storytelling to detail current research about global warming. He doesn’t. He restricts himself to explaining just enough so readers understand the extreme position of Terra Firma’s leaders. The story remains central with enough action and explosions to pull readers along. All of the characters, including minor ones, are completely drawn and serve a purpose to the story. Nothing feels extraneous.

Primitive may not change readers’ minds about the causes of or solutions to global warming, but the storytelling involved will likely engage them in the discussion.


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