Bea’s five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is slowly wasting away, consumed by the smog and pollution of the overdeveloped metropolis that most of the population now calls home. If they stay in the city, Agnes will die. There is only one alternative: the Wilderness State, the last swath of untouched, protected land, where people have always been forbidden. Until now.
Bea, Agnes, and eighteen others volunteer to live in the Wilderness State, guinea pigs in an experiment to see if humans can exist in nature without destroying it. Living as nomadic hunter-gatherers, they slowly and painfully learn to survive in an unpredictable, dangerous land, bickering and battling for power and control as they betray and save one another.
But as Agnes embraces the wild freedom of this new existence, Bea realizes that saving her daughter’s life means losing her in a different way. The farther they get from civilization, the more their bond is tested in astonishing and heartbreaking ways.
At once a blazing lament of our contempt for nature and a deeply humane portrayal of motherhood and what it means to be human, The New Wilderness is an extraordinary novel from a one-of-a-kind literary force.
Diane Cook is the author of the novel, The New Wilderness, and the story collection, Man V. Nature, which was a finalist for the Guardian First Book Award, the Believer Book Award, and the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. Her writing has appeared in Harper’s, Tin House, Granta, and other publications, and her stories have been included in the anthologies Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. She is a former producer for the radio program This American Life, and was the recipient of a 2016 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, daughter and son.
She has spent a lot of time in remote places, even though her belongings and life were always rooted in cities. The push-pull of civilization and wilderness has always been at the heart of her work. She spent a lot of time in the high desert of Oregon while writing The New Wilderness, nervously trekking on pathless BLM land, getting lost and almost stuck in springtime snowy mountain roads, sharing a parcel of land with a resident mountain lion, startling large herds of elk outside her door on moonless nights. And while she prefers to live remotely and quietly, she’s easily spooked by being alone in wild places, though she keeps returning to them. Whatever balm such places offer her has always been greater than the amorphous fear they also invite.