rivers, fish, fire, words.” These are the choices of author Joseph Monninger when asked to describe his life in eight words. These same words all figure prominently in Monninger’s newest novel The World as We Know It. The story opens as brothers Ed and Allard Keer, young teens living along the Baker River in New Hampshire, rescue Sarah Patrick after she has fallen through the ice in the river; Sarah, in turn, saves Allard as he nearly drowns underneath the ice during the same rescue. The trio becomes inseparable and the family theme is evident as Monninger explores the sibling, friendship, and romantic aspects of their relationships.
This quiet book is beautifully written. Its style is reminiscent of Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety or Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River for both the almost reverent approach to nature writing as well as the keen examination of close relationships. The landscape descriptions are evocative and nature becomes not just the backdrop for the story but an omnipresent fourth character exerting its influence over the brothers and Sarah. An environmentalist bent is evident but not at all strident as arctic ice melt, homing pigeons, fly fishing, and animal cruelty are touched upon. Just as an accident on the river serves to bring the three children together, another clash with nature acts as the catalyst to break them apart as adults. The second part of the book deals with the aftermath of tragedy and the process of grieving and its impact on longstanding familial and romantic ties. A lovely piece of fiction, The World as We Know It is an insightful, interesting story and would serve as an excellent book club selection.