Raphael Semmes Cody, half Mobile, AL, gentry and the rest, Clayville, AL, redneck, is a lonely kid who revels in summers spent exploring the Nokobee swampland, an environmentally sensitive tract bordering Florida's panhandle, home to longleaf pines, swallowtail kites, snakes, gators, and bugs. Best of all, Nokobee is where Raff Cody crosses paths with Florida State science Professor Fred Norville, who recognizes a fellow naturalist in the calm, self-contained young man who prefers the company of ants to that of people. Norville's influence and the Semmes family's money combine to secure Raff a first-class education in nearby Tallahassee, a law degree from Harvard, and the opportunity to return to Mobile with a plan to protect Nokobee for future generations. Famed naturalist Wilson, himself a Harvard-educated Alabama native, has won Pulitzers for his nonfiction (On Human Nature; The Ants). Touted as a novel, this book reads more like creative nonfiction, especially in light of the jarring inclusion of Raff's 70-page thesis on the Trailhead ant colony. VERDICT Though his characters come off as one-dimensional, Wilson excels at describing the pungent smells and tranquil silence of the disappearing wetlands of Alabama. Recommend to readers of authors known for evoking a strong sense of place, like Marjorie Rawlings, Peter Matthiessen, or Marjory Stoneman Douglas. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/09.]--Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL[Page 91]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction author and Harvard entomology professor, Wilson (The Ants) channels Huck Finn in his creative coming-of-age debut novel. Split into three parallel worlds--ants, humans, and the biosphere--the story follows young Raff Cody, who escapes the humid summers in Clayville, Ala., by exploring the remote Nokobee wilderness with his cousin, Junior. In one adventure, sneaking onto the property of a reputed multiple murderer to peek at his rumored 1,000-pound pet alligator, 15-year-old Raff faces down the barrel of a rifle. Raff's aversion to game hunting, ant fascination, Boy Scout achievements, and Harvard education all support his core need to remain a "naturalist explorer." A remarkable center section meticulously details the life and death of an ant colony. Nearing 30, Raff's desire to preserve the Nokobee reserve from greedy real estate developers galvanizes an effort to protect the sacred land and a surprise violent ending brings everything full circle. Lush with organic details, Wilson's keen eye for the natural world and his acumen for environmental science is on brilliant display in this multifaceted story about human life and its connection to nature. (Apr.)[Page 112]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.