Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times national correspondent Timothy Egan turns to fiction with The Winemaker's Daughter, a lyrical and gripping novel about the harsh realities and ecological challenges of turning water into wine.
When Brunella Cartolano visits her father on the family vineyard in the basin of the Cascade Mountains, she's shocked by the devastation caused by a four-year drought. Passionate about the Pacific Northwest ecology, Brunella, a cultural impact analyst, is embroiled in a battle to save the Seattle waterfront from redevelopment and to preserve a fisherman's livelihood. But when a tragedy among fire-jumpers results from a failure of the water supply–her brother Niccolo is among those lost--Brunella finds herself with another mission: to find out who is sabotaging the area's water supply. Joining forces with a Native American Forest Ranger, she discovers deep rifts rooted in the region's complicated history, and tries to save her father's vineyard from drying up for good . . . even as violence and corruption erupt around her.
Scattered, clumsy and overearnest, this debut novel by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Egan tells the story of Brunella Cartolano, an architect who strives to save the family vineyards in the arid wine country east of Washington's Cascade Mountains. On a visit home, Brunella finds her widowed father aging quickly and a water crisis underway; after four years of drought, tempers are frayed in the region. A fire breaks out nearby, and Brunella's younger brother, Niccolo, a firejumper on his summer break from college, is sent to fight it, along with Teddy Flax, a neighbor with a romantic interest in Brunella. Something goes wrong, and Niccolo is killed; Teddy is terribly disfigured. Brunella is enmeshed in the investigation of the tragedy and works with Leon Treadtoofar, the Nez Perce Forest Service man trying to find out who was at fault for the mishap. Meanwhile, Brunella is caught up in a feud over stolen water, finds herself battling the Seattle company she is working for and tries to prevent the sale of the family farm by her unscrupulous older brother, Robert. Egan shakily juggles his convoluted and competing plot lines, skipping erratically from scene to scene. When he slows down, some evocative moments emerge, among them the smoke-jumping episodes and Brunella's dramatic meeting in a church with Teddy. But Egan never manages to make the crusading, Italian-spouting Brunella engaging, and awkward dialogue, unconvincing relationships and forced symbolism further hamstring the novel. Egan's nonfiction journey through the American West, Lasso the Wind (1998), was widely praised; with this foray into fiction, he loses his way.