cover image Marrow Island

Marrow Island

Alexis M. Smith. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-544-37341-9

Smith’s excellent sophomore effort (after Glaciers) follows struggling journalist Lucie Bowen who, after being deeded ownership of the island cottage of her childhood, returns there to live and regroup. It’s been 20 years since she and her mother fled Orwell Island on Washington’s San Juan archipelago, after a devastating 7.9-magnitude earthquake rattled the land, blew up a refinery, and took her father’s life. But a letter from her childhood friend Katie has beckoned her back. Katie has joined an environmentalist commune on previously abandoned nearby Marrow Island, and she touts that her farm collective’s efforts have revitalized the land and invites Lucie to visit and see the changes for herself. Their reunion and the looming sense of menace ratchet up the novel’s suspense; the dread is clear from the outset due to Lucie’s journalistic skepticism. As the two women—along with forest ranger Carey McCoy and colony leader Sister J.—interact over a weekend on the island, it becomes disturbingly clear that Marrow Island may be having a sinister effect on the dedicated, religious citizen farmers living off the primitive land. Smith’s story carries the same heft, descriptive nuance, and narrative spark that distinguished her debut, but this time, she more finely hones her characters’ emotional rhythm and atmospheric location to create a thoroughly eerie reading experience capped off with a startling conclusion. Agent: Seth Fishman, the Gernert Company. (June)