A Review of Kimi Cunningham Grant’s “These Silent Woods”
I’m not sure if this is a direct result of COVID-19 or just one of those happy coincidences, but there seems to be a run in the publishing world on books featuring father and daughter duos in survivalist mode. First off, there was Andrew Krivak’s The Bear, published just a month before the pandemic reached North American shores. The story was about the last remaining humans, a father and a daughter, living in the woods. Then there was this summer’s Billy Summers by Stephen King, which featured a hitman and a young woman who was a stand-in for a daughter figure, both of whom were forced into hiding in rural settings as they were on the run from the bad guys. The third book in this trifecta is Kimi Cunningham Grant’s latest novel, These Silent Woods, which features a man on the lam living in a remote cabin with his eight-year-old daughter. Is this a trend or have these types of stories always been popular? Hard to tell. However, with COVID, there’s something timely in all these tales that make them relevant for those of us who had to endure lockdown after lockdown. A cabin in the woods would sound appealing right about now, no?
The story of These Silent Woods is that of Cooper, a former Afghanistan war soldier, who kidnapped his daughter Finch (both not their real names) as an infant after his wife-to-be, Cindy, died in a car accident. After the accident, Finch had been taken away from Cooper and given to Cindy’s parents, both of whom do not like Cooper. So Cooper took his child back illegally and went on the run. About eight years later, Cooper and Finch are now living in a cabin in the Appalachian mountains that belongs to his war buddy, Jake. Jake shows up once a year to replenish the food and clothing supplies for Cooper and Finch. However, in the unnamed year that the novel is set, Jake doesn’t show up. That means Cooper must risk going into town to get those needed supplies and being spotted by the locals. Compounding matters, a couple of women, strangers, have shown up, either at the cabin or in the surrounding land. Compounding matters further is that Cooper’s neighbour, a Vietnam war vet known as Scotland, knows of Cooper’s crime and may or may not be able to be trusted. With all these events converging, life for Cooper and Finch is about to get more complicated, and they may be pushed out of hiding.
Though the novel is billed as a thriller, These Silent Woods is about the small moments and the bond between father and child. The garden is to be planted, the chickens must be fed, deer must be hunted, and small talk only exists at the breakfast table. The title of the novel gets it right: this is a quiet book. It’s the sort of cozy read that you can devour wrapped up in the blankets of your bed on a cold winter’s night. Alas, it is perhaps a touch too quiet. This is a book ostensibly about character development, and the only characters who feel real are the women strangers and Finch. Cunningham Grant has difficulty writing convincing male leads, as they seem aloof and unsure of themselves somehow — almost to the point of being a touch feminine. This makes the story seem, at times, rather unbelievable. That is, it’s hard to believe that Cooper was a killer in his role during the War on Terror. After all, he puts up with Scotland, even though this neighbour is sly, stealth-like and carries a weapon, and doesn’t seem to be the person with whom you’d invest a great deal of trust in.
That’s not the worst problem of the book, though. The main issues that prevent These Silent Woods from being a top-drawer novel are that it has an incredulous climax and final twist, and the fact that the book is peppered with plot holes. On this latter front, it’s hard to swallow that Cooper has enough money in reserve as a former fighter in a war (am I correct to assume the U.S. military doesn’t pay much?) and as someone who has only had a history of odd jobs working in places such as a sawmill to bankroll a massive expedition to Walmart to stock up for a year’s worth of goods. Finch, too, also seems to be very intelligent for a young girl, even though she has received nothing in the way of a formal education. Scotland, as well, is shifty. We know that Cooper doesn’t like him much, and the feeling seems to be mutual, but then Scotland goes against his character and does something towards the end of the novel that can be construed as a massive act of kindness towards Cooper.
All in all, These Silent Woods is a disappointment. I suppose the writing is somewhat lyrical and it does give off a certain wintery vibe (it’s set around Christmastime), but too much of it seems implausible. After all, and here’s another plot hole for you, since Cooper has committed a crime, don’t you think the authorities would twig into the fact that they might want to interrogate some of his friends and check out some of their properties, especially remote ones that are seemingly good places to hide? From the get-go, then, These Silent Woods comes across as being completely farfetched. This is heartbreaking because it’s in those quiet moments where the novel seems to work best. The conversations between father and child are telling, and this is a book about big family love. If as much detail went into closing some of those plot holes and the “holy moly, where did that come from?” conclusion as it did the overall atmosphere and thematic concerns, this would be a much stronger novel. I guess it just goes to show you that publishers will publish anything that features a father and daughter on the fringes of society. Unfortunately, and not to sound churlish, but that seems to be the only reason that a novel such as this one is allowed to exist. We need better escapism about survivalists in a world where people are dying from a deadly virus. Try the other books listed in the first paragraph, instead.
Kimi Cunningham Grant’s These Silent Woods was published by St. Martin’s Press / Minotaur Books on November 16, 2021.
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