Book review: 'Kinship of Clover' is gripping tale

"Kinship of Clover," the new novel by Ellen Meeropol, author of two previous novels, "House Arrest" and "On Hurricane Island," will keep you up at night, gripped in the spell of irresistible characters who are anything but ordinary.

Their stories intertwine like the vines, stems and leaves of the planet's vanishing species, pushing out to new heights and depths of survival. The central character in this novel is Jeremy Beaujolais, a college student who cares very, very deeply about the daily extinction of the earth's plant species. He has what he perceives to be supernatural encounters with these plants. It all began for him at age 9, when he saw them dance and reach out to him on his family's commune, where "they turned their city lot into an organic garden, composting before it was sexy."

The story begins when Jeremy is broadcasting his late-night college radio show devoted to listing plant extinctions. He begins to see these plants grow out of his skin and he gets more and more carried away with what he is reporting. An on-duty security guard listening in grows concerned about the young man's mental health and contacts the station's manager. Jeremy is removed and he sees a health services counselor named Patty, who convinces him to take time off and stay with his twin brother, Tim, in Brooklyn. It is there that Jeremy is inadvertently caught up with a very radical eco-terrorist group.

The two boys suffered a traumatic upbringing in their family's cult, including the tragic death of two younger siblings due to parental neglect. They grew apart — Tim taking an interest in the conventional world of business and Jeremy in botany with a mission to save the world's doomed flora. After reestablishing contact in Brooklyn, the boys also begin making a gradual peace with their past and their parents' new life. In the process of finding a place in his chosen field, Jeremy reaches out to associated family members, whose stories also include fragmented connections and hard-scrabble struggles with the world. Their open hearts lead them all toward transformative resolutions.

These people often resemble the plants that grow out of Jeremy's mind, covering him with warm scents and silky leaves, and making him feel alright. Even when, with Patty's help, he begins to recognize the plant emanations as hallucinations or illusions, the reader is not completely sure they are not real in some spiritual way and that they make this character special. An important component of this novel is how the author addresses Alzheimer's disease in an elderly social activist and the beautiful characterization of Zoe, Jeremy's girlfriend, who has spinal bifida. Meeropol's way with writing about relationships is enriching and real.

A book event for "Kinship of Clover" by Ellen Meeropol is scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10, at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar.

Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at


"Kinship of Clover"

By Ellen Meeropol

Publisher: Red hen Press

257 Pages