Unleashed: A Novel (Hardcover)
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Set amid California’s wildfire season, a vivid and magical novel following a family in crisis thrust on a collision course with the world around them that has an outcome beyond their wildest imaginings . . .
When Lu and George Barnes drop their only daughter, Pippa, off at college, they return to their Sonoma home to find that their paths have diverged. Confronted with an empty nest, Lu’s increasing dissatisfaction with their materialistic lives becomes impossible to ignore. She is most content outdoors, finding the animals in her backyard far superior company to her pretentious neighbors. In contrast, George is eager to throw himself into his business, a local winery with an elite clientele, as well as his art collection. He cannot for the life of him understand his wife’s discontent.
Meanwhile, Pippa feels completely adrift at school in the bustle of LA—its unfamiliar noises, its unfriendly atmosphere. She finds comfort only in the beloved family cat she’s brought with her and in her zoology class, which makes the world seem just a bit brighter. As Lu, George, and Pippa struggle to adapt, growing apart in the process, tensions outside the family are mounting as well; women have been disappearing across the country with no worldly explanation, all while California’s wildfire season is swiftly approaching, bringing with it a reckoning that none of the Barneses can avoid.
At once a grounded story about love and family, and a transcendent tale about the power of nature, Unleashed is a stunning look at what matters in an all too chaotic world, the things that sustain us when we are on the verge of losing it all, and how we might find ourselves in the most unexpected of ways.
About the Author
Cai Emmons (1951-2023) was the author of six novels—His Mother’s Son, The Stylist, Weather Woman, Sinking Islands, Unleashed, and Livid—and a story collection, Vanishing. She held a BA from Yale University and two MFAs, one from New York University in film and the other from the University of Oregon in fiction. Before turning to fiction, Emmons wrote plays and screenplays. Winner of a Student Academy Award, an Oregon Book Award, and the Leapfrog Global Fiction Prize, and finalist for the Narrative, The Missouri Review, and the Sarton awards, she taught at a variety of institutions, most recently in the creative writing program at the University of Oregon.
"Oregon Book Award–winning Emmons examines a family’s fracturing within the framework of escalating natural disaster.... In this poignant novel, Emmons reveals how people react under high levels of stress, capturing the reader’s imagination as she moves in an unexpected direction. Excellent for book discussion groups."
—Library Journal (starred)
"There's much to admire here in Emmons' crisp,evocative prose and thoughtful character studies."
"What seems like your basic California wine country empty-nest story goes off in wildly unexpected directions.... It's quite a trip.”
"Unleashed is deeply insightful about our current moment, the way we struggle to balance the quotidian conflicts of love and family with the apocalyptic thunderclouds ever-growing over our heads. Cai Emmons has written a rich and moving book about the things that make life matter, even during the darkest times."
—Dan Chaon, author of Sleepwalk
"A gripping and exquisite novel of love, loss, and estrangement in a brutally changing world. A propulsive family drama, Unleashed is also a passionate tale of transformation, with characters who leap off the page and a story that will captivate readers with its magic and warmth."
—Bruce Holsinger, award-winning author of The Displacements
"Unleashed is a clever and audacious novel that enacts the disruption it depicts, carrying the reader from deft contemporary realism to vivid surrealism that feels, somehow, like coming home. A beautiful fable of the clarity wrought by devastation, and a hymn to life. This is a special book—wild, earnest, and bold.”
—Lacy Crawford, author of Notes on a Silencing