I really enjoyed Ruth Ozeki’s third novel A Tale for the Time Being which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013 and her debut My Year of Meats. Almost two years later, I finally got round to reading her second novel ‘All Over Creation’. Japanese-American Yumi Fuller (or Yummy as most of the characters call her) returns to Liberty Falls, Idaho for the first time since she ran away from home as a fourteen-year-old in 1974. Her elderly parents run a business selling seeds having retired from potato farming several years ago and a group of eco-activists who call themselves the Seeds of Revolution have descended on their home. Meanwhile, her former teacher Elliot Rhodes is now working as a public relations manager for a company producing genetically modified Nu-Life potatoes which the Fuller’s neighbours are using on their farm.
After tackling the beef industry in ‘My Year of Meats’, Ozeki turns her attention to the genetic engineering of crops, specifically potatoes in this case. Unsurprisingly, it’s a topic which is rarely explored in fiction but she succeeds in bringing it to life without being too dry. Ozeki’s views on the controversial issues surrounding the agricultural industry are very clear from the start but she avoids patronising the reader and doesn’t lose sight of the importance of telling a good story along the way. She blends the comic and tragic elements of the story very well and the favourable comparisons to Barbara Kingsolver in terms of her writing style and environmental themes are accurate and justified.
Ozeki’s characters encounter some very uncomfortable and unlikely scenarios with mixed results. The rekindling of Yumi and Cass’ friendship was surprisingly convincing despite Yumi’s twenty-five year absence and the complicated events which occurred during their adolescence. However, I thought other elements such as Yumi’s relationship with Elliot as well as his bizarre career change were much less believable and accounted for some of the weaker subplots of the book. While there is a clear divide between some of the “good” idealistic characters championing organic farming methods and the “evil” businessmen working for giant corporations, Yumi herself is a well-drawn character who is flawed in a more nuanced way due to the choices she has made in her life.
Overall, I still think ‘My Year of Meats’ and ‘A Tale for the Time Being’ are Ozeki’s strongest novels but ‘All Over Creation’ is worth reading if you enjoy offbeat and thought-provoking fiction with a radical edge.