Poet and essayist Lisa Wells takes us on a pilgrimage to the margins of the environmental movement, examining the lives and work of trailblazers and outliers who are finding new ways to live and reconnect to the Earth in the face of climate change.
... a thought-provoking and heady mix of memoir, journalism and philosophy ... Wells seeks out a variety of people whose radical responses to the climate crisis challenge and defy the norm. The characters she profiles are varied and fascinating, and their stories may resonate with older readers who remember their own idealism during the 1960s counterculture movement ... While Wells is adept at communicating her own coming-of-age story and life journey, Believers is most compelling when the author allows the fascinating people she meets to speak for themselves, providing a rich mosaic of perspectives on life in the 21st century. Believers is a reckoning with climate change and a testimony about how to live on our threatened planet that will engage thoughtful citizens everywhere.
Three-quarters of the way through her book, Wells gives up on her series of immersive jaunts with 'believers' and steps back to draw on the thoughts and writings of others. We miss the outrageous forays, the wrong turns and the tangled ways her rootlessness drives her. Somewhere she loses her thread and fails to fully break through. Her own 'promised land' is always elsewhere ... Wells’s final request, that we learn to work cooperatively and live in the loving embrace of true communities, tells only part of the story. Nature is the embrace, and if Wells digs in deeply enough wherever she is standing, she will find that nature’s long arms have always been twined through and around her.
Believers is digressive and its scope broad, the book’s many threads tied by Wells’ appraisal of environmental damage and repair. She’s largely successful in this intertwining, although some storylines are better executed than others. A chapter that fluctuates between a reconciliation ceremony in Taos, New Mexico, and a mental breakdown on a trip to Philadelphia feels off-kilter. (Sometimes, the language itself feels circular; while reading, I underlined a sentence that struck me. When the same sentence appeared 10 pages later, its repetition felt more accidental than intentional.) Still, Wells’ prose, rooted in her poetry, gives her a unique advantage when writing about living through this unstable moment in history ... Some of Believers' best moments involve Wells digging into the cultural delusions of the frontier ... There are times when Wells appears uncomfortable as a memoirist—reticent about some difficult portions of her life—but, like the subjects she profiles, her memories ground Believers' big questions in personal stakes.