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June 27, 2024

In 'The God of the Woods,' Philly author Liz Moore explores the 'peril' of nature

Set in the Adirondacks, the book separates itself from her last, 'Long Bright River,' which takes place in Kensington and is becoming a TV series starring Amanda Seyfried.

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Liz Moore God of the Woods book Provided Images/Penguin Random House/Maggie Casey

Liz Moore's new book, 'The God of the Woods,' is out Tuesday, July 2. Her previous book, 'Long Bright River,' is being made into a show starring Amanda Seyfried.

In her new book, "The God of the Woods," South Philly author and Temple professor Liz Moore felt drawn to write about the Adirondack Mountains. Her mom's side of the family is from that area, and they still own a cabin there. 

"It's a hugely sensory place for me, there's a lot to see and smell and touch and hear when you're up there," Moore said. "I tried to capture a lot of the atmosphere of the region in the book." 

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"The God of the Woods," out Tuesday, July 2, tells the story of the Van Laar Preserve — a tuft of land in the Adirondacks that's part summer camp, part retreat for the wealthy Van Laar family and their friends. While attending the camp in 1975, the Van Laar's daughter, Barbara, goes missing. In the style of an ensemble cast, Moore tells the story of Barbara's disappearance and how her brother, Bear, also went missing from the same grounds 10 years earlier. 

The Van Laars consider themselves independent, naming their home "Self-Reliance" even though the camp was built and run by the working class people from the nearby town of Shattuck. With the alternating narratives, including a serial killer inspired by real-life Adirondack murderer Robert Garrow, Moore said she wanted to explore conservation and who nature belongs to. 

"Summer camp and camping in general invites the telling of stories around the campfire or in a communal setting," Moore said. "With that as my North Star for this book, I thought about the way I could tell the most propulsive story while still bringing in some bigger ideas."

The "Dirty Dancing"-esque setting of her latest novel is a far cry from her last, "Long Bright River," which was set in Kensington and based on the multi-generational struggle with addiction in Moore's own family. The book came out in 2020 and is being made into a TV show from Peacock with Amanda Seyfried starring as the book's main character, Mickey. 

"'Long Bright River' is very near and dear to my heart, obviously, because I live in Philadelphia and it's my only book so far set in Philadelphia," Moore said. "It's gotten a really warm embrace from the city of Philadelphia, and it's brought me into contact with a lot of community members, a lot of people in the book world in Philadelphia, which was really cool."

Both novels explore class divisions, Moore said, a theme that often arises in her books. In "The God of the Woods," she said she tried to draw from the way nature brings calm and beauty to some and an eeriness to others. 

"There's a feeling of great beauty in the woods, but the other side of that is peril, and that tension is at the heart of this book," Moore said. "I've had friends who grew up in cities who come to the wilderness and absolutely cannot sleep because it's too quiet, and that's the sensation that I tried to capture in this book along with the beauty of the wilderness."

With 'The God of the Woods" set to hit shelves next week and the TV show on the way, Moore said she's not sure where her next project will take her. But she certainly sees herself writing at least one more book set in Philadelphia. 

"Philly is my home now, my children are Philadelphian and I'm raising them here in the city. And wherever I am, I find a lot of inspiration," Moore said. "So I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty sure I have another Philly book in me."

Moore will be at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia on Tuesday, July 9 discussing the book with Jessica Kartalija of CBS Philadelphia.