All Over Creation

As in her first novel My Years of Meats (1998), Ruth Ozeki in All Over Creation examines the hazards of modern American food production, this time involving a greater number of characters and larger questions about friendship, youth and old age, and parents and children.

Idaho potato farmer Lloyd Fuller is dying; his wife, Momoko, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, although she still remembers how to cultivate seeds for exotic flowers and vegetables. Their estranged daughter Yumi (“Yummy”) ran away at fourteen after a scandalous affair with her ninth-grade teacher Elliot Rhodes. Now a divorced English professor in Hawaii, Yummy returns to the farm so her three children can meet their grandfather before he dies.

Yummy’s high school friend Cass and her husband now technically own Lloyd’s farm, and are growing genetically modified potatoes that make their own internal pesticides. A group of environmental activists arrive, intent on raising the locals’ awareness about bioengineered food. Yummy’s high school lover Rhodes also shows up, now a spin doctor for a corporation that bioengineers the new potatoes. All pursue varying agendas as Lloyd’s health fails and the fates of the potato farm and Momoko’s seed business hang in the balance.

Yummy, at the center of the story, is less than likeable; a selfish and caustic daughter and careless mother, her conflicts are resolved too neatly and suddenly in the final pages. Otherwise Ozeki’s characters struggle believably with growing up and growing old. Local farmers’ efforts to make potatoes economically viable are nicely portrayed, and the hazards of bioengineering are contrasted with the pitfalls of doing everything “organically.” Ozeki has once again integrated environmental issues with surprising ease into an absorbing fictional story.