Perhaps on the theory that unhappy endings aren't so off-putting if you know about them from the start, The Divide begins with the discovery of the dead body of the most appealing character in the novel. By the time we have followed Abbie Cooper in her journey from teenage idealist to more-sinned-against-than-sinning ecoterrorist, we are prepared for the final disclosure of how, two months pregnant, she meets her death in a snow crater in the Rocky Mountains after three-and-a-half years on the lam.

The eponymous divide does some heavy multi-tasking here. It refers not only to the nearby Continental Divide, but to the name of a ranch where the family often vacations, and to the astutely drawn relationship of Abbie's parents, Ben and Sarah, who stubbornly grow older in opposite directions. When Ben breaks up their marriage for another woman, the fallout is quietly ravaging. Abbie turns to political activism for the Earth Liberation Front, following almost blindly in the fascinating footsteps of a ruthless young leader who scatters collateral damage along the way. Ben and Sarah indulge in the small spiteful acts of a marriage on its way out. Only Josh, Abbie's brother, seems to keep his head through the disaster. And as they all struggle to help Abbie, they find themselves becoming her cohorts: "God help us," thinks Ben, "our golden child has made criminals of us all."

Nicholas Evans' gift, as displayed in the bestseller The Horse Whisperer and two other novels, lies in combining engaging characters with effortless storytelling. Here, through flashbacks, the reader sees Abbie's life choices as part of a larger picture of family breakup. Even love cannot always protect individuals from hurt.

 

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