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"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."
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  Volume No. 15 Issue No. 10 October 2018  

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Janice Tollini

  "Pines"
  By Janice Tollini

   “Pines” (the Wayword Pines Trilogy) is a sci-fi thriller written by Blake Crouch, a resident of Durango, Colo. The book was made into a television show; and, despite the influence of director M. Night Shyamalan and Matt Dillon in the lead role, the TV version did not do the book justice. The book unfolded the plot so skillfully that the TV show seemed like a fast food drive-through after dinner at the Broadmoor.
   
   The book begins with Ethan Burke, the main character, waking from an accident. He finds himself laying on the road, not knowing his identity or whereabouts. After an agonizing walk to the nearest town, he determines that he is in Wayward Pines, Idaho. At first, all he can recall is the word, “Mack.” So, he tracks down a man named Mack, only to realize that the word Mack actually came from the grill of the truck that hit his car. His injuries are severe; after passing out on Mack’s lawn, he wakes up in the hospital. As he struggles to sort out the details of his identity, he meets implicit resistance from the people of Wayward Pines.
   
   Ethan is eventually able to recall that he is a secret service special agent assigned to the Seattle office. He had been sent to Wayward Pines to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents, Bill Evans and Kate Hewson. He calls his home office but is unable to connect with his chief, Adam Hassler. The receptionist answering the phone says she has no record that Ethan is an agent, although he had worked there for several years. She icily agrees to pass along the message to Hassler.
   
   While in the hospital, Ethan encounters a strangely angry nurse named Pam and Dr. Jenks, a psychiatrist. Dr. Jenks tells Ethan that he has suffered a severe head injury, and he is not thinking clearly. He suggests that Ethan is having a dissociative episode and must remain in the hospital for further care. Without being able to articulate why, Ethan is mistrustful of them and leaves the hospital against their wishes. Pam had assured him that the town sheriff, Arnold Pope, is in possession of Ethan’s wallet and phone, but when Ethan speaks with Pope, he is again met with an undercurrent of hostility.
   
   Without any money or identification, Ethan is able to con a meal from a bartender at a local bar. Her name is Beverly, and he feels an immediate connection to her. Before he leaves, she slips him a piece of paper with an address written on it, telling him he can find her there if he needs her. Beverly becomes his only confidant in Wayward Pines. The address later leads him to an abandoned house where he finds the body of Agent Evans, who had been tortured and killed.
   
   Over the next few days, Ethan’s uneasiness about the town and its inhabitants grows. There are no TVs, no source of news aside from the town paper, and all the residents seem extremely anxious. Most curiously, he discovers that the sounds of crickets he hears when walking the streets one night are actually recorded and come from tiny speakers hidden throughout the town.
   
   Ethan’s confusion and frustration grow when he accidentally runs into Kate Hewson, the agent he was sent to find and the woman he had an affair with years ago. But the Kate he finds is nearly 30 years older than she should be. Kate does not reveal that she knows him until they speak privately. She then warns him that they are being watched and he is putting her in grave danger.
   
   Every few chapters, Crouch inserts a chapter showing Ethan’s wife, Theresa, and their son, Ben, back in Seattle. They are distraught because Ethan is missing. At first, Theresa fears he has resumed his relationship with Kate, but after a year, she comes to terms with the fact that he must be dead. Theresa and Ben hold a memorial service for Ethan, and Theresa begins to face a life without her husband. The morning after the service, a man named David Pilcher appears at Theresa’s door and tells her that he has a way to reunite her with Ethan. He explains that Ethan is in fact alive and that she and her son can begin a new life with him but will have no contact whatsoever with friends and family.
   
   Ethan attempts to leave town, but finds that –- bizarrely –- there are no roads leading out of Wayward Pines. He is confronted by Sheriff Pope, who knocks Ethan unconscious. He again wakes up in the hospital, to an angry nurse Pam, who informs him they are prepping him for surgery. She and Dr. Jenks refuse to tell Ethan what the surgery is for and ignore his demands that they release him. It is at this time that Ethan realizes, “It isn’t me. There is something wrong with this town.”
   
   Beverly intervenes and helps Ethan escape from the hospital. She tells him the truth about Wayward Pines. All the town’s residents are essentially being held captive as the town is surrounded by an electric fence. It is forbidden to speak of the past, and all residents in the town are monitored by cameras and microphones, as well as microchips secretly implanted in everyone to track their activity. She explains that the townspeople live in fear, and Sheriff Pope holds “reckonings” in which anyone accused of violating the rules is murdered by the town in a barbaric frenzy.
   
   After a period of trying to fit in yet discover the truth, Ethan is finally able to escape from Wayward Pines. He discovers the terror that lives beyond the electric fence, ape-like creatures with extraordinary strength and speed. After finding a hidden mountain stronghold, Ethan also finds answers from a man named David Pilcher, who reveals the creatures Ethan saw are aberrations; and they are all that is left of mankind beyond Wayward Pines. Most importantly, he informs Ethan that it is not the year 2014, but 4017.
   
   Each time I have read “Pines,” which is more than once, I had a hard time putting it down. Crouch described Ethan’s experiences in a way that allowed me to feel his frustration and confusion and the urgency he felt in needing to return to his family. I had a strong visceral reaction when reading about Ethan crawling through miles of the air duct that led to Pilcher’s fortress. The characters are deliciously complex and well-developed. As for the plot, I never had a sense of what might happen next. “Pines” is the first in a trilogy. The remaining books, “Wayward” and “The Last Town,” are equally well-written.
  
 
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