“I’ve burned, and that’s what I wish for all of you. To burn with anger, desire, joy, sorrow. All of it.” -Lark Ascending
Lark Ascending by Silas House was the first book in a long time that I read deep into the night with no hope of sleep until I finished the very last word. Every chapter is filled with both despair and beauty and heartbreak so poignant that you feel the pain with the characters. It will hook you from the first page and hold you in its grips until the very end. Lark Ascending takes place in the not so distant future, a dystopian nightmare of a world that feels like it could become all too real in today’s political and sociological climate. It is a story of hope, found family, and the strength it takes to get through when all you know is lost.
It started with the fires — everything burning. Australia, Africa, then America, until most of the land was engulfed in flames. Riots and looting became the norm as the population starved, the governments fell and electricity ceased. The “fundies” take over America, a radical group that makes anyone who disagrees with them disappear. Artists, priest, anyone suspected of being queer was subject to “the Slaughters.”
The story opens with Lark as an old man looking back over his life at the trials and victories that led him to his final resting place. He was born in the “before” times, before the fall of humanity. But as he grows up the world starts to descend into chaos. America starts burning in California, and then the South follows quickly behind. His aunts who were married long before the rise of Fundies are taken in the Slaughters and his family realizes it’s time they look for safety on the move. They travel to a nature preserve in Maine with his mom’s best friend Phoebe and her two children, Arlo and Sera, and find shelter there for a long time. The families grow up together, running wild in the woods and playing in the waterfalls and springs. For a time it feels like they have found safety and home with each other. Lark realizes his feelings for Arlo are growing with each day and the two fall deeply in love.
All is paradise until the fires reach them. They have to move again, this time with the intent to take a ship to Ireland where it was rumored they are taking in refugees from other countries. Specifically they want to get to Glendalough, a place believed to be almost magic. On the eighteen day long walking trip to Novia Scotia where the boat is docked, lives are lost, sanities are broken, and the group is reduced drastically in number. You are launched into Lark’s journey across the Atlantic, a treacherous beginning to an even more difficult experience once he reaches land.
Meanwhile in Ireland, a sweet hound named Seamus is trying to navigate the world on his own after losing his owner. The two meet and become each other’s hope for survival as they try to reach the promise-land.
I cannot say enough good things about Lark Ascending. If you enjoy stories of found family and finding hope in the least expected places, you won’t be able to put it down. Despite the heavy nature of this story, there is hope woven within its pages. The characters are able to see beauty in the smallest things- the smell of cedar wood, the softness of Seamus’ ears. Even in the chaos you get to watch first love unfold and the safety and ecstasy that holds. Just when you think darkness will take over, something happens that gives a glimmer of hope and light.
Trigger warnings: this is a dark book. There are many, many deaths described in quite a bit of detail. Some chapters contain abuse of both humans and animals, and the details make you feel like you are really there. The hardest part of reading this book is knowing how easily our world could slip in that dystopian nightmare even now. The unrest both socially and politically is so on par with what we see on the news every day. With our world spinning deeper and deeper into division and climate change, it is easy to see how this imagined world came to be. Many of the things are happening now- the fires, the fundamentalist spouting hate, the distrust of each other.
This book will make you think, make you appreciate those you love even more, and make you thankful for the world we have around us. It will also make you want to fight to make it better. Lark Ascending goes on sale September 27th, 2022. The author Silas House has also written national best sellers such as Southernmost, Clay’s Quilt, A Parchment of Leaves, and more. His writing has appeared recently in Time, The Atlantic, Ecotone, The Advocate, Garden and Gun, and Oxford American. You can learn more about him at https://www.silas-house.com/