Temple Grove by Scott Elliot

A subtle, brooding novel of environmentalism and human complexities set in the Pacific Northwest.


In Temple Grove, Scott Elliot (Coiled in the Heart) considers the Olympic Peninsula and its human and nonhuman inhabitants with nuance. A young Native American woman, ambivalent toward her two-month-old son, hikes along a lovely river. Eighteen years later, that son, Paul, hikes back into the woods to engage in what will be called eco-terrorism: spiking trees to discourage their being logged. Simultaneously, a man named Bill returns from a lengthy exile in Alaska, grateful to find work logging in the woods of his homeland. Parallel to these two men–who, like magnets, attract and repel one another–Paul’s mother, Trace, ruminates on her disconnection from her husband and her son.

Paul roams the Olympic forests with his mentor, an aging environmental activist, not entirely aware of why his connection to this place is so strong. Upon his homecoming, Bill remembers (and is disturbed by) past mistakes. The only flaw in this profound and sensitive novel is a potentially upsetting and controversial resolution to one of the plot’s surprises.

Human concerns are embedded within the rhythms of nature, and the traditions of Trace’s Makah tribe resonate within her and her son as in Elliot’s writing. Contemplative, secretive, a novel of the earth, its people and filial relationships, Temple Grove presents a surprisingly broad cast of ordinary men and women representing all walks of life, all sharing the fact of inner conflict.

This review originally ran in the July 9, 2013 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 7 ambivalences.

One Response

  1. […] a lovely book. I recently read and enjoyed Scott Elliot’s Temple Grove enough that I attended to his “Note on Sources,” and requested several from my local […]

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