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Posted September 19, 2009
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Caitlin R. Kiernan Goes Noir
While no one can fault Kiernan for atmosphere, language, or dramatic development, this book is a cross between Poe, Lovecraft and Brontë, with such blatantly lesbian themes that they dominate the story-telling.
Without giving away the punch-line, let it be said that the protagonist Sarah Crowe is a woman whose one-shot literary wonder creates a stultifying case of writer's-block. To transcend it, she leaves her comfortable apartment in Atlanta and begins a self-imposed author's retreat to an abandoned farm-house in Rhode Island.
The scene is fraught with both terror and nostalgia, for Sarah's one childhood memory of the area is tainted by tragedy, and it colors her perceptions from the very start. She finds a manuscript from the previous occupant, one Dr. Charles L. Harvey, a folklorist who (we come to learn much later) committed suicide by hanging from the boughs of the book's name-sake.
Sarah undertakes as her own mission an exploration of the dark despair and inward-turning delusions (or are they?) of the dead man, and sets out to write her own story. Clearly a depressive from the start, Sarah slips further and further into madness, intermixed with themes clearly drawn from de Lint and other authors.
Her lesbian romance with a local is the one bright component in the book, and it is so incongruous that it defies both reason and the normal rules of plot development. Sarah is rough, rude, gruff and generally unpleasant, while her companion is an exact opposite. Rather than allowing the mood of her friend to draw her away from the downward descent she has embarked upon, Sarah spoils her relationship and repels her one-time champion. From there the end of the story is telegraphed chapters before it comes to pass.
The mystery characters and the fantasy themes that Kiernan is so noted for are here little more than window-dressing. Gothic Romance aficionados might derive some small spark of enjoyment from the language and the mental erosion of the protagonist ("Turn of the Screw" anyone?), but the unhappy conclusion is both predictable and unsatisfying.
Suffice to say, purists of any genre will find this book sadly lacking and as a cross-over it doesn't make the grade . . . unless of course the reader is a suicidally-depressed lesbian, in which case this book is a road-map of sorts to a place no one else really wants to go.
While Caitlin R. Kiernan has sometimes been accused of resorting to formula her standard fare is both interesting, well-written and appealing. "The Red Tree" may be formulaic, but it is not her own brand and the difference is telling.
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Posted December 29, 2010
Unremarkable at best
There were several times I wanted to just put this book away and stop reading, but I am one of those people who must finish a book once started. In fact, it took me about two months (I can usually read a book in a couple of days) to get through because I couldn't read more than a few entries at a time without losing focus. I still can't quite grasp what the purpose was. The language was unnecessarily complex at times with incredibly obscure references and some of the most basic language was unnecessarily foul, as though the author was trying to prove some kind of point. I kept waiting and waiting for something to happen, and while there were very interesting and promising parts throughout the book, such as all of the basement scenes and each trip to the tree, the ending was incredibly disappointing and somewhat predictable. Each of these scenes seemed to be leading to a different plot entirely. The insertion of two of Sarah's own stories ("Pony" and "A Long Way to Morning") seemed unhelpful to the plot and were a bit too odd for my taste. While this book was incredibly dark and grotesque (as the description promises), the themes throughout seemed very unrelated to one another, leading to a mash up of multiple ideas that, on their own, probably would have led to several great stories. Basically, I feel as though there were a plethora of other options for the author to make this book more enticing that were ignored. The description of this book promises a much more interesting novel than Kiernan delivers. My misfortune is that I purchased this book for my Nook, so it cannot be returned or even given away.
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Posted February 4, 2010
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