The Net Beneath Us by Carol Dunbar is the story of Elsa, a woman living off the grid with her husband and two small children who faces new challenges when her husband is severely injured in a logging accident. Already a fish out of water in rural Wisconsin, Elsa is completely unprepared when her husband Silas is injured, leaving her and her son and daughter in an unfinished home without running water or a completed second floor. Completely dependent on Silas – a man she adored despite their differences – Elsa must process her grief and loneliness while also learning to survive.
Why I picked it up: I was persuaded by Susie of Novel Visits to pick up The Net Beneath Us, and it was my book club’s January read.
There is a lot to like about The Net Beneath Us. Dunbar explores grief and sadness from multiple perspectives: Elsa, her daughter Hester, and Silas’ aunt and uncle Ethan and Luvera. They each handle the loss of Silas in different ways, with their individual approaches to grief affecting the various relationships among the survivors too. I also appreciated that the wilderness was its own character, with seasons, weather and undeveloped terrain posing challenges to its inhabitants, particularly Elsa, who was not accustomed to it. Dunbar’s writing is evocative and atmospheric, and the book is full of emotion. I loved this line: “What she had learned: Grief isn’t just about the person you lost; it’s about losing the person who you were with them, and who you go on to become.” (I just realized it’s the same quote Susie noted in her review!) That’s sort of what the book is about – how losing someone can force you to change, even while you’re trying to retain the memory of them and the person you were when you had them.
All that said, The Net Beneath Us a pretty sad read, without much levity or change throughout the book. It is occasionally repetitive, without much really happening until the final quarter or so of the book. I also found Hester, the daughter, to be a weird combination of too old and too young. She was forced to take on a lot of responsibility as a pretty young girl, but she also acted younger than her years at times too. Little kids are hard to write about in adult fiction, and I am not sure Dunbar got her right.
I started off listening to The Net Beneath Us on audio, but Cassandra Campbell’s narration, which I usually like, turned me off. Her voicing of Hester was grating and I couldn’t get past it. I switched to print about a quarter of the way in, which was a big improvement.
Overall, this was a pretty good, if sad, read and I am glad I picked it up.
The Net Beneath Us was the 10th book of 2023.