Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grey Pine

By T. Lloyd Winetsky

From the back of the book:

On May 18, 1980, the eruption of Mount Saint Helens captured the attention of America. The communities east of the Cascade Mountains were woefully prepared for the devastation and disruption that followed, transforming for many a bright spring day into a murky, twenty-hour night. Grey Pine is the story of Phillip Stark, a bright and innovative young science teacher who attempts to treat the ash fall as an opportunity for experiment and wonder, but who is constantly thwarted by the resulting havoc in the community, and his own personal demons. As his health declines, his relationships suffer. The chaotic and often dangerous situations with his alcoholic father, irksome neighbor, unreliable girlfriend, and strained friendships derail any attempt to regain control of his life. All the while the omnipresent ash from the volcanic eruption acts as a symbolic reminder of his oppression and inability to break through.

Just my opinion:

This is the story of one man’s spiral into a deep depression – and his struggles to fight it, even as he continues to give in to its pull. It’s a fascinating psychological study of mental illness and the effect it has not only on the sufferer but those around him, as well.

Following the death of his mother, Phillip’s father falls into severe alcoholism. When he’s drinking, he becomes verbally abusive and Phillip begins to see his father as two different personalities … the father whom he loves and the stranger who takes over his body when alcohol enters the picture. As he struggles to try to stop his father from destroying himself, he begins the blame others for the circumstances he finds himself in.

The effect on Phillip is nothing short of heartbreaking. He stops eating properly, he can’t sleep, he withdraws from friends and family and he self-medicates with ulcer medication. He also begins to exhibit some compulsive tendencies when the eruption of Mount St. Helens leaves the area under a blanket of ash and Phillip spends all his waking moments working to clear up the mess in his yard and on the street.

I found this book interesting on several levels. First, I remember vividly the mess we all dealt with here in eastern Washington following the eruption of the volcano in 1980. Life basically stopped for several days as we dug ourselves out of inches and inches of gray powder. Reading Grey Pine, I can see how this gloominess could cause sadness in those already suffering from depression. I would compare it to seasonal affective disorder, in which the darkness winter can throw those afflicted by it into melancholy.

I also enjoy reading books that have a psychological milieu. I find it fascinating reading an author’s take on these issues and theories, especially those who have done their research and know something about the disorders.

Last month, I read the book Maria Juana’s Gift by this same author. I very much enjoyed that story, too, and you can read that review here. He is currently working on another book and I hope to have the opportunity to also read that one. For more information, you can visit his website.

T. Lloyd Winetsky wrote Grey Pine in 2007. The book was reprinted in 2009, just in time for the 30th anniversary of the eruption. The updated version includes photos Mr. Winetsky took outside his home in Othello, Washington, where he was living in 1980. Those familiar with my profile know I now live in Othello, although I was living about an hour northeast during the ash fall.

I'm also excited to report that this author will be doing a book signing at The Old Hotel Art Gallery in Othello in December. That is a very special treat because we don't get that many authors in our small city. We typically have to travel an hour or so to the bigger areas for book signings!

Be sure to stop by the author's website at tlwinetsky.com.

Just below, you will find my favorite passage from the book. I was drawn to this sentence because of my own experiences. As day turned to night and the ash began to fall, my oldest son, who was 3 years old at the time, disappeared. I found him out on the back patio, grabbing handfuls of ash and throwing them up into the air. He was in seventh heaven as he proclaimed, “It’s snowing!” That’s quite a treat for a little boy to have snow in the summer!

My favorite passage from the book:

Leaning out the doorway, he watched the flecks of ash fall like steady snow caught in a car’s high beams.

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