Hudson

Unrestorable Habitat: Microsoft is My Neighbor Now by Lois Pillips Hudson (2010. Foreverland Press. ISBN 9780996528924)

I loved Hudson’s one and only novel, Bones of Plenty, a compelling melodrama set on the plains of North Dakota (see review elsewhere on this site). So when an organization I am involved with, the Rural Lit R.A.L.L.Y. suggested that I review this collection of Hudson’s essays on modern life, the environment, and contemporary culture, I leapt at the chance. I accepted the “read” knowing that the pieces were essentially unedited, rough drafts of Hudson’s musings on technology and it’s impact on the author’s beloved Sammanish River. As the back jacket of the book states:

There are many parenthetical comments within the text where she reminds herself to recheck sources, verify facts, and to delete repetitions…Also there are a few typographical mistakes. However, the text is being published as Hudson left it, without editorial corrections.

OK. As an author who studies other writers and their techniques, I’ve found such revelations, as in the recent Nodin Press version of Minnesota novelist John Hassler’s classic, Simon’s Night, which included Hassler’s personal journal as part of the book, to be of great value. That said, I can’t say the same about the asides included in this work. First, the parentheticals don’t, when taken as a whole, reveal all that much about Hudson the writer or Hudson the person. And because the parentheticals are simply included alongside the text, without being italicized or otherwise distinguished from the body of the work, they are distracting. Also, the choice not to edit out repetitive passages (how many references to the life cycle of Pacific coast salmon need to be included to make the author’s point?) or typographical errors seems to me to be a curious way of presenting this educator and writer’s epistle on contemporary life.

A bigger flaw to me, however, is found in the overall dire alarmism of Hudson’s prose. What do I mean? A reader’s attention is consistently and constantly called to childhood obesity, lack of juvenile attention and inquisitiveness, environmental degradation, and a host of other maladies that Hudson blames upon computers and the digital age. Here’s a sampling of the author’s remarks in this regard:

As a descendant of Irish-immigrant farmers who slaughtered Native Americans and grubbed their way across North America without ever cashing in big, I will guess that if we ever do find another planet to plunder, once again it will be those who already have who will ultimately take over the New Frontiers. And with the rest of the world’s proletariat, I will be inhaling the clouds of rocket exhaust watching the pioneers blast off “to seek a better life” in Boeing space ships financed by me.

Seems to me that Hudson, much like current presidential contender, Bernie Sanders, is decrying problems, such as wealth inequality, without offering concrete solutions.

Despite the repetition of scenes, comments, and thoughts that plague this book, and despite the author’s consistent rage against Microsoft, Bill Gates, and assorted other computer innovators, I found validity in Hudson’s dire predictions about where mankind is headed both socially and environmentally. However, when all is said and done, it seems to me that the author’s fatalistic approach to the decay of American life, much of which she attributes to sloth and greed, is tiresome in that, while Lois Hudson has a sharp tongue for criticism, she has little to offer in way of suggested solutions to the ruinous path we’ve embarked upon. The points Hudson makes here are valid but, without any hint of an alternative path, really don’t add much to the discussion. Instead of coming off as the wise old sage who has seen much and has deliberated on society’s ills to the point of offering helpful insights, Lois Hudson’s alarmism, without more, reminds me of the cranky old lady who lived between me and my best friend Eddie. Mrs. Swanson’s voice was loud and critical but always ignored by us as we cut through her manicured back lawn.

One other point. This collection originally came out as an eBook and the print version appears to have been digitally printed through Create Space, an arm of Amazon.com. It’s a bit of hypocrisy, in my humble opinion, for the author’s critique of Jobs, Bezos, and Gates, to come to fruition through the very technology Lois Hudson decried.

3 stars out of 5. Editing  out the repetitive passages in this work would have improved its readability a great deal. This book would be a useful adjunct to environmental science and law courses but not as a stand alone “read”.

Peace.

Mark

  • Hi, Mark. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts on Unrestorable, and I will be posting a link to your review on the Hudson website. There is room, and need, for opposing views! As I noted in an email to you, there are others who share your opinion.

    As the “editor” of the work, I wanted to clarify a few things on the publication for your readers. Yes, the book was originally published as an ebook, and I too found a certain incongruity in that; I chose to think that Lois might appreciate that no trees were cut down for that version! The print version was then created as a result of requests from people who prefer an actual text; it has been done as a print on demand book to minimize environmental effects.

    I have argued with myself on the editing, such as it was. May I say that it was often a physical pain to leave some things as they were; by nature I am a perfectionist and wanted to fix everything! That said, I do apologize for any obvious errors that I did not catch.

    In the end, I chose to leave Hudson’s work as she left it for a couple of reasons – and clearly, it was unfinished, as indicated by her own references (as left in the book)to “check this.” One, I felt it was not my place to change the writing of someone who could not defend themselves, Hudson having passed away and the work having been published posthumously. Two, the amount of editing that would have been necessary would have been so extensive that I didn’t trust myself not to lose something critical.

    Side story: John Henry, who wrote the introduction to Unrestorable, is reading some of Hudson’s short stories and articles, and writing about them for the website. The first one is up now, and it’s entitled “The Dispute Over the Mountains.” Between John’s and my review of the entire file, we determined that it had been a work in progress for about 35 years, and that it was rejected by about 9 publishers before being picked up. The reason? Most publishers wanted minor changes made; one asked only that the first paragraph be shortened. Hudson refused.

    In closing, I want to mention that recently, 100 copies of Unrestorable were sold. Some of the books will be given to attendees at a conference to be held in early May, and some will go to others for consideration as a book club choice. What Unrestorable does best, perhaps, is to create dialogue among various constituencies for exactly the reason you note above: “The points Hudson makes here are valid…”

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment, Mark. It is always a pleasure to read your insights!

    • Mark:

      I do think the essays have value as discussion “starters” as you indicate. There is much to be gleaned from Hudson’s criticism though, as I indicated in my review, some suggestions as to how to deal with the reality of a digital world, from someone of Hudson’s intellectual clarity, would have gone a long way to making the work better suited to a wider audience.
      As always,
      Mark

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