The Erenwine Agenda by Maia Kumari Gilman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Erenwine Agenda is an ambitious eco-fiction romance which wraps a complicated and often contentious topic into an appealing package. The book tells the story of the romance between Amalia Erenwine, an intern at an architectural firm, and Mark Stone, a geologist who works for an energy company that Amalia’s firm is designing a building for. Amalia and Mark express different points of view about fracking and energy policy, and their political differences play out against the backdrop of the 2012 US Presidential election and Hurricane Sandy in New York City. I found it an enjoyable read, even though I wasn’t fully convinced by the author’s environmental or romantic agendas.
The author handled the subjects of fracking and green energy generally in a sensitive manner that didn’t devolve into boredom or preachiness. I especially liked the scene at the church for its characterizations and its presentation of diverse points of view. And I loved her point at the end: that the best solutions to a problem often come indirectly, when you stop pushing for them. The novel provided a blueprint for how people of goodwill can work through tough disagreements and preserve relationships. While this novel takes place in 2012, the contentiousness of the 2016 election makes the message of continuing to talk to each other and look for solutions across the political divide more relevant than ever.
I am only an occasional reader of romance, but as I understand it, the genre has certain conventions that were not evident in this story. Amalia and Mark were both young, hip, nice people, and moderately complex characters, but the story lacked romantic chemistry and sexual tension. Their disagreements with each other at the church discussion came across as off-putting and not particularly intriguing, overshadowed by the more interesting stories told by the other participants. And there were none of the traditional obstacles that keep star-crossed lovers apart—no misunderstandings, dark secrets, or jealous lovers–not even the promise of riches or a change in social station. As a result, it wasn’t important enough to me that these two characters get together at the end for the romance to be able to drive the plot.
In general the pacing was a little off, and the whole book was talky and overly long. It opened with . . . a meeting. Some tension was building for a while as Hurricane Sandy bore down on the city, but the storm’s consequences for our hero and heroine were completely benign. I needed to know more about how the characters were feeling about their situation at different points. They needed to be in some danger–physical, emotional, or psychological–but I never felt that urgency or intensity.
I’m also ambivalent about the title. It grew on me as I read the book and came to understand what Amalia’s agenda was and how it evolved. But it didn’t grab me from the start, and it first led me to expect Amalia to be some kind of Jason Bourne-like figure, a la “The Bourne Identity,” but she wasn’t. And naming your geologist Mark Stone . . . Really?
These quibbles aren’t enough to keep me from recommending The Erenwine Agenda as an antidote to the venom in our current political discourse and a way to learn about how communities respond to changing energy needs.
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