By E. O. Wilson
Narrated by Kevin T. Collins
“Anthill” is compared by some to a Mark Twain’ (Samuel Clemens) saga. In comparison to Twain, “Anthill” is not particularly funny nor is it adventurous. E. O. Wilson is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning non-fiction author. “Anthill”, as a work of fiction, seems out of Wilson’s depth.
The hero, Raff Cody, fails to meet the threshold of identification with a hero; a reader does not get much emotive satisfaction in Raff’s journey from childhood to adulthood. Finishing the book is like finishing a newspaper article; i.e. a little interesting but not something you would tell a friend about.
Raff is raised in a distantly related aristocratic Alabama family. The aristocratic family finances his education. The family is associated with a development company planning to exploit a naturalist enclave called Nokobee reserve by building a residential/commercial community. Raff, after graduating from Harvard, becomes the land developer’s corporate environmental attorney.
Raff has a clandestine plan to preserve the Nokobee property. Nokobee is partially saved by incorporating the reserve into the aristocratic family’s idea of a new development. Raff becomes a successful environmental attorney with a sly bent for cooptation to conserve habitat.
This seems like a true story but it fails to emote reader’s feelings of either hero success or hero tragedy. A reader feels neither elated by a hero’s success nor downcast by hero’s failure. In a piece of fiction, one looks for heroic lessons in life, not compromise.
Expectation is a cruel mistress. If one begins listening to a story about ants and expects revelatory enlightenment about entomology or environment, it is not in “Anthill”. Raff Cody matures to become a pragmatic environmentalist that saves an ant hill, a small part of the Nokobee reserve. If Wilson had developed more of the ant hill entomology, if Wilson had made Raff more rebellious, if Wilson had compared more of ant hill growth to humanity, if, if, if, this could have been a better than average story.
Time and knowledge is too precious to put “Anthill” very high on one’s reading list.