Hugh Zachary - Gwen, in Green (1974)

Gwen in Green by Hugh Zachary.

Coronet 1976; first published 1974

Hugh Zachary describes himself as “The most published underpaid and unknown writer in the U.S.

His pseudonyms include: Ginny Gorman, Elizabeth Hughes, Zach Hughes, Evan Innes, Pablo Kane, Peter Kanto, Derral Pilgrim, Olivia Rangely, Marcus Van Heller and Elizabeth Zachary.

Novel synopsis:
When George’s parents are killed in an air crash, he and Gwen, his wife of seven years, are suddenly made rich - and able to build their dream house. George has fond childhood memories of Possum Creek. When they visit the place, the fact that a lot of land is being cleared for a nuclear power plant being built nearby doesn’t diminish its charm for him. A cooling channel running to the plant cuts across the land and effectively isolates Possum Creek and pretty well guarantees the couple’s privacy.

Aware that their money will eventually run out, George repairs electronic equipment for the locals, and when he isn’t doing that – or having sex with Gwen – he plays ‘frontiersman’, clearing the land around the house. They have quite a lot of sex, and Gwen has to work hard at it; her mother’s sleeping around had left her with difficult memories, and it took a lot of George’s patience and love before she was even able to let him touch her. But the two of them are determined, and life in the dream house is pretty good.

Until Gwen’s nightmares begin.

The right arm, severed by a sharp blade just below the shoulder, bone crushed, jagged, can be closed off with fire. The system goes into protective shock, being unable, while aware, to bear the pain. But one survives. Loss of blood is limited by the cauterizing. There is an endless period of pain. Two arms severed at once is more of a shock to the system and can kill. Healthy specimens can, at times, survive. Life lingers on, in any case, fighting, not taking the easy way of quick death. A jagged, dull blade can dismember the body limb by limb and leave occasional periods of consciousness during which pain is a roaring rush which takes possession of all the senses. A foot lopped off bleeds the vital substances of the body into the earth. A leg chopped off causes the body to fall down, to lie on the warm earth writhing in pain.

She knew all. They took her fingers, one by one, giving her time in between to regain consciousness. Then they cut off her hands at the wrist. Then, whack, the arms at the elbow. Thunk. At the shoulders. She screamed in pain, roared with it, bellowed it, wept with it, begged them to stop, and sought death. Whisk. A foot gone. Thunk. A leg at the knee.

Apart from the dreams she feels fine, and she and George joke that all she needs is a good fuck to sort her out.

So she has one.
But not with George.

Then, after she’s attempted suicide, she agrees to see Dr King, the psychiatrist.

She still can’t explain why she sometimes acts like someone else. It’s as if she’s obeying instructions.

When one of the caterpillar tractor drivers who’s been toppling the surrounding trees bumps into Gwen one evening, he thinks it’s his lucky day. What’s left of him is still smiling when she buries him in a shallow grave.

Gwen’s appetite for sex has become insatiable and George decides he’s the luckiest man on earth. Otherwise, he’s been busy repairing Dr King’s polygraph machine. He decides to test it on one of the local growing venus-flytraps. In fact, this is the only place where venus-flytraps grow wild. He’s astonished when the machine reveals that the plant gives off electrical impulses suggesting fear, pain and fainting, when he cuts it.

Extending the experiment to other local flora, he gets similar reactions. Trees scream. Plants feel terror. And why doesn’t Gwen want him to clear the weed from the swimming pool?

The stranger was hurt. Badly.
He just lay there in the mud looking up at the pretty young woman.
“Who are you?” she asked, looking at him closely, noting the cuts, the blood, the trailing, twisted arm, his weakness.
“Does that matter?”
“Yes,” she said. “Are you the boss?”
“Yeah. Listen, I’m beginning to hurt. Will you please go get some of my med?”
“No,” she said. “I’m going to watch you die.

When the supervisor of the logging unit is injured in a crash, then is found by the psycho who’s been picking off his drivers, one by one, you can see this is not going to be one of his better days. Whether Gwen really is a psycho might be debatable; she seems to be under the influence of a form of plant life from another world, which is only using her to defend itself against the agony of destruction from bulldozers, axes and fire – for the intelligence, whatever it is, shares its pain. With other plants and with Gwen. And then there is the mass-murder of the creatures in the canal. Death from a bulldozer is almost merciful compared to being buried and slowly smothering and crushing under tons of mud and the bodies of fellow-creatures.

And Gwen feels it all.

And the only relief she knows is sex.

When she finds some kids hanging around the grounds, she gives them the time of their young lives – and tells them to come back and bring their friends.

Dr King has noticed a curious similarity between Gwen’s case and that of another years before. But that other woman had been a nymphomaniac who’d finally become a murderess. Nothing like Gwen then.

Just the coincidence that they shared the same address.

There are more incidents and murders, one of them particularly bloody.
Humans typically pick up an axe to deal with invasive or troublesome trees. Gwen is on the side of the trees, but she's got an axe, too...

And the nature of the things that are influencing Gwen is explained in more detail.

Plants possessing intelligence is an old story, of course. One of the scientists in the The Thing From Outer Space (1951), says exactly that, citing Telegraph Vines as plants which exchange messages. And while Lyall Watson was writing Supernature in the Seventies, what he’d learned about plant life rendered him unable to mow his own lawn. Gwen, in Green is an absorbing, chilly and thought-provoking book.

Rog Pile

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Gwen, in Green by Hugh Zachary (Coronet, 1976). Cover art Jim Burns

Gwen, in Green by Hugh Zachary (Coronet, 1976). Cover art Jim Burns

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