Hunger of the Pine: Teal Swan

What is the hunger of the pine? And who is Teal Swan? That all depends. Hunger of the Pine is both a song and a book. According to the author, Alt-J, and Miley Cyrus, of the song – it’s a metaphor for the yearning, or pining for love or a loved one. The author of the book lifted the title of the song for the title of her book because it is apropos to the story she tells.

The cover of Teal Swan's theory of everything
Shadow work

Teal Swan is either a “spiritual catalyst” or a “suicide catalyst”. Because she is very influential and controversial. Or maybe just a successful capitalist entrepreneur? For sure she is “smart, beautiful, sweet [questionable], crazy, compassionate [questionable], wild, and sensitive”; just like the protagonist, Aria, in her novel.

The Setting

is in the cities of Chicago and Los Angeles and the time is now, 2020. There is also a cross-country bus trip, and of course, the Pacific Ocean. In addition, the reader gets to live inside the minds of Aria, and Teal – which can be dark. Or, “the carriers of the shadows that no one truly wants to face.” (pg. 290)

The Plot

is not uncommon. It is in some ways a coming of age story and a love story. Lonely, lost teen girl searches for meaning and finds it in the form of love from a man. It’s almost Cinderella’s story. Or that of the White Knight? Either way, it’s a rescue tale.

But that’s just on the surface. This story gets real deep down into the nitty-gritty of the human experience.

[There’s no doubt in my mind that much of the detail, which is exquisite, comes from the author’s own experience. Moreover, she identifies as only part human, the other part alien.]

Teal Swan on YouTube with yet another controversial take
looks human

A big part of the story is that of being homeless in America. Just how, why and to whom that happens. (It could happen to you!) One part of the plot is that there is a force outside (or maybe not) of us that is of “cosmic orchestration”.

Thus the story, or plot, is part typical and part pure Swan. Postmodern. [Which I like.] Not unlike David Foster Wallace’s fiction. In fact, she tells a tale (pg. 285) not unlike his 2004 commencement speech: This Is Water.


is used perfectly. Swan uses the characters to tell the story, theirs (the homeless), hers, as well as everyones. Mostly she uses dialogue, but sometimes speaks directly to you, the reader, via her voice [the alien?].

Style / Voice

is my favorite part of this book. It’s unconventional. Breaks boundaries and crosses lines. Which makes it Postmodern. Of course! What would you expect from an hybrid? A mutant?

Theme / Big Ideas

is where I would challenge Swan. However, that makes it fun, right?

At root, Teal is a Postmodern, Liberal, Left, Progressive, Millennial. Of course. In the course of the novel she takes on, and opines (mostly, via the characters) on all the big issues of the day. The issues of forever?

Such As:

  1. Homelessness
  2. Immigration
  3. Abortion
  4. Policing
  5. Child Welfare
  6. Pets
  7. War
  8. Culture
  9. Religion
  10. Addiction
  11. Marriage
  12. Love
  13. Abandonment
  14. Sex
  15. Homosexuality
  16. Values
  17. Territory
  18. Money
  19. Power
  20. Freedom

Swan weaves it altogether in a very readable way. Seductive.

In conclusion

I can’t recommend this novel enough. However with this caveat: It’s tricky.

You’ve been warned.


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