A former skateboarding athlete and writer for Color magazine, Michael Christie of Galiano Island earned his MFA from Creative Writing UBC and laid the groundwork for a first collection of linked short stories, The Beggar's Garden (HarperCollins 2011), about disparate lives in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. It earned him the City of Vancouver Book Prize. It was later shortlisted for the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature, sponsored by both Okanagan College and BC BookWorld, long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was a finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

His second book If I Fall, If I Die (McClelland & Stewart 2015) is about a young boy embracing new-found freedom from his agoraphobe mother and the small house he shares with her. Life "Outside" as the protaganist, Will, calls it quickly grows complicated. When Will comes face to face with the criminal underbelly of city life, his mother must face her biggest fears and decide if she can be brave enough to save her son. According to the book's jacket cover, the story encompasses ideas about "family and friendship, overcoming fears, and learning when to protect the ones we love and when to let them fall."

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Beggar's Garden

Greenwood by Michael Christie (McClelland & Stewart $35)

Review by Cherie Thiessen , 2020

The Great Withering of 2028 has killed most of the world's trees. Global warming has created dust bowls around the world. A new strain of TB has evolved, killing many.

There is a new ailment for children, Rib Wrack. It makes them cough so hard they often crack their ribs. The Prime Minister of Canada has become the world's most powerful person. Overcrowded Canada has become the number one destination of global refugees -- nearly all of them.

Ten years later, in 2038, it's the worst of times and the best of times for Jake Greenwood to be a botanist specializing in trees, a dentrologist. The few trees that are left can no longer be used for frivolities such as paper towels and books.

The division between rich and poor has become ever wider. Ragged children beg everywhere and jobs are difficult to come by. Jake has no siblings. She (Jake is a woman) hasn't had parents for many years. Her mother, who was an internationally known viola player, died in a train wreck when Jake was eight. The father Jake never met died in a work-related accident when she was three.

So begins Michael Christie's Greenwood, an unusually structured novel that uses the life rings of a tree stump as a metaphor to cover four generations of a family. An introductory illustration in the book shows the cross section of a tree trunk and its rings, which start in 1908 when the tree sprouted and when trees were plentiful. The novel timeline proceeds from the tree's outer rim (2038), goes to the core (1908), and then works its way back to the opposite outer tree rim (2038), when trees are precious.

At the chronological outset of this near-futuristic family saga, a pair of nine-year-old boys are orphaned (one of whom is Jake's great-grandfather). Two trains collide and extinguish both their parents in 1908. Left to forage on their own, while living in a shack they built for themselves, the two wild boys are named Harris and Everett by the townspeople.

Over time, the pair are known as 'the green wood boys' because they chop green wood to sell to the locals. Hence the Greenwood surname germinates. Neither marries. Harris eventually and reluctantly adopts a baby girl, Willow.

Harris is wildly successful in his ruthless exploitation of trees. Everett, however, faces a far bleaker future, sacrificing himself for his brother not once but twice. He enlists in WW1 under his brother's name because Harris had been determined to serve even as his eyesight was worsening, leading to eventual blindness. Then Everett goes to prison to serve a 35-year prison term for an alleged crime that actually never took place -- mainly to prevent some ruinous facts being made known about his brother.

Willow is brought up with every comfort by Harris but turns her back on his wealth, hating how he made his fortune, and living her whole life instead in a VW van, eventually having a son, Liam, by a drifter she never sees again.

Liam is generation three. He fathers Jake. Like the trees around them, the four generations harbour destruction within their cells: unsuccessful relationships, depression and drug and alcohol dependencies.

The connection to trees is central and ubiquitous; the book's cover, the design, and even the edge of its pages reflect the woody cross-section of fallen timber.

We are therefore reminded that the book in our hands -- unless you're on a screen -- is made from a tree. Trees sustain us. As do stories. We are all connected.

Greenwood is a bleak story about a bleak future of environmental destruction; as well as individual, corporate and governmental greed; as well as over-population and a widening gulf between the haves and have-nots. Yet somehow Christie lifts readers above all that.

Inter-generational novels are often difficult to follow, but this novel is engrossing, extremely well-crafted, cohesive and will resonate with readers. It takes a prodigious amount of research, organization, passion and skill to write such a novel.

"What if a family isn't a tree at all?" Jake thinks to herself. "What if it's more like a forest? A collection of individuals pooling their resources through inter-twined roots, sheltering one another from wind, and weather, and drought."

Michael Christie's first book of stories, The Beggar's Garden (HarperCollins, 2011), won the Vancouver Book Award and was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, as was its follow-up, If I Fall, I Die (M&S, 2015). 978-0-7710-2445-0

Cherie Thiessen reviews fiction from Pender Island.


The Beggar's Garden (HarperCollins 2011). 9781554688296 $24.99

If I Fall, If I Die (McClelland & Stewart 2015) $29.95 978-0-7710-2365-1

Greenwood (McClelland & Stewart 2019) $35 978-0-7710-2445-0

[BCBW 2019] "Galiano"