The Lion Trees: Part One: Unraveling

The Lion Trees: Part One: Unraveling

5.0 5
by Owen Thomas

What if survival required you to unlearn who you are? How far would you fall to save yourself? Sometimes happiness is a long way down.

The Johns family is unraveling. Hollis, a retired Ohio banker, isolates himself in esoteric hobbies and a dangerous flirtation with a colleague's daughter. Susan, his wife of forty years, risks everything for a second chance


What if survival required you to unlearn who you are? How far would you fall to save yourself? Sometimes happiness is a long way down.

The Johns family is unraveling. Hollis, a retired Ohio banker, isolates himself in esoteric hobbies and a dangerous flirtation with a colleague's daughter. Susan, his wife of forty years, risks everything for a second chance at who she might have become. David, their eldest, thrashes to stay afloat as his teaching career capsizes in a storm of accusations involving a missing student and the legacy of Christopher Columbus. And young Tilly, the black sheep, having traded literary promise for an improbable career as a Hollywood starlet, struggles to define herself amid salacious scandal, the demands of a powerful director, and the judgments of an uncompromising writer.

By turns comical and poignant, the Johns family is tumbling toward the discovery that sometimes you have to let go of your identity to find out who you are.

[A] cerebral page turner...a powerful and promising debut.-Kirkus Reviews

[Five Stars]...[A] powerful, gripping and realistic story...The Lion Trees does what so very few great novels can: it will take a lot out of you, but leave you with much more than you had when you began -Pacific Book Reviews, a five star review.

Product Details

OTF Literary
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.90(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.80(d)

Meet the Author

Owen Thomas, a lifelong Alaskan with an abiding love of original fiction, is a product of the Anchorage School District and a graduate of Duke University and Duke Law School. While managing an employment litigation practice in Alaska, Thomas has written three novels: Lying Under Comets: A Love Story of Passion, Murder, Snacks and Graffiti; The Lion Trees, winner of 13 international book awards; and a novel of interconnected short fiction entitled Signs of Passing, winner of the 2014 Pacific Book Awards for Short Fiction. Owen maintains an active fiction and photography blog on his author website at

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The Lion Trees: Part One: Unraveling 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
MargieS1 More than 1 year ago
Given To Me For An Honest Review Owen Thomas' book The Lion Trees: Part One: Unraveling is a powerful, gripping and a very realistic story.  It is  about the Johns family.  The parents are Hollis and Susan.  The children are Matilda (Tilly) and David. Ben who is  mentally challenged who lives with his parents. Hollis is a retired banker and has a problem with drinking.  He is usually downstairs in the basement trying to avoid  his wife.  Susan is a wife and mother who is beginning to regret her past choices in life.  She is also the caregiver for Ben.  David is a high school teacher who seems to always be fighting a battle with his students who don't really  care about learning. Finally there is Tilly.  She is an actress.  After using director's couches to try and climb the ladder to success she is now earning respect with her acting.  She has earned a nomination for an Academy  Award. This is a family that from outside looks like an average family.  From behind the doors they are a family without love  or caring and have many problems.  This book is a must read.  Once you begin it'll grab you and won't let go until you get to the end.  There are many twist and turns.  And talk about a page turner, this truly is one.  The interesting  thing is as you read it seems to make you a part of the story.  When you get to the end of the book you go "Hey"?  But, no worries there is Book #2.  So it's all good.  I gave this book 5 stars but I think it really deserves more than  10+ stars.  I loved it and you will too.  I highly recommend it to all.  I look forward to more from Owen Thomas.
HanaKolea More than 1 year ago
This two-volume juggernaut is an orgy of literary yummy - and way more fun than a serious work of fiction has a right to be. I’m always looking for a novel that has it all: credible characters, an entertaining story line, suspense, humor, good writing, something unexpected, a satisfying ending, and a meaningful theme. It’s a tall order for any author, so I was surprised to find the whole package in a debut novel. “The Lion Trees” unfolds in four interwoven narratives. The Hollis chapters are told in a deft third-person voice infused with the character’s point-of-view. I think it says something about the maturity of the author that as Hollis shambles through his character arc, we root for him even as we want to punch him in the nose. The Susan chapters are told entirely through dialogue. The Tilly chapters are told in the first-person from a retrospective 60 years in the future, and I must say, it was poignant and compelling to listen to a woman with end-of-life wisdom recall the missteps of her turbulent youth. The David chapters are engagingly told in the first-person as his life sprawls away from him in a debacle that is outrageous and yet relatable. “The Lion Trees” has a profound central theme, combined with astute character studies, some social observation, genuine soulfulness, and a good sense of humor. It’s a deeply satisfying read. And yet, let me offer at least one criticism. There is something unsettling about Susan’s character. I never got a good grasp on her, and while her frustrations and triumphs are plausible, we don’t encounter them with the same sharp humanity that the author creates for the other main characters.   And then there is the length of the book. What can I say? It’s long. But if you’re thinking that a book this size must be an impenetrable mess or a tedious slog, then you are in for a nice surprise. Four distinct voices keep the narration fresh. The drama is engrossing. And the story becomes a suspenseful page-turner as the novel picks up momentum. Reading this book reminded me of binge-viewing an HBO series, or reading a trilogy back-to-back. I emerged at the end feeling like I’d been somewhere. The other advantage of a super-size novel is that the author gets to take the reader on an occasional detour. These secondary characters add delicious texture to an already multilayered story, and because the subplots are well crafted, they meld seamlessly into the greater story without feeling extraneous. I found that the minor characters advanced the central theme of the book and were fascinating in their own right. I want my book club to select this book even though it’s a two-volume set. I visited the author’s website and discovered that he is willing to participate in discussions, which I think is fantastic. (It’s a cool website).  As a point of reference for those who like comparisons, this book has the family dynamics of “The Corrections,” the story-within-a-story of “The Blind Assassin,” the alternating voices of “The Poisonwood Bible,” the social incisiveness of “A Man in Full,” the wry irreverence of “The Financial Lives of Poets,” and the timeless quality of “A Prayer for Owen Meany” (with a dash of Bradbury sci-fi on the side). I know this is an exuberant review - especially since I’m constantly exasperated by blurbs that declare every book to be Amazing! Astounding! Breathtaking! - nevertheless, this novel is truly a standout and I loved its audacious length and ambition.
Robert-S-Osborne More than 1 year ago
A Roaring Success Is change possible?  Personal growth?  A new day?  A fresh start?  Or are we destined from birth, or perhaps from our first early missteps, to an immutable character?  Character not just as a collection of mental and moral qualities, but as a character in a play, a dramatis persona that we must act out again and again in multiple scenes of our lives, a perpetual Groundhog Day?  And what room is left for morality, judgment, approbation and adulation if we are each merely spinning in the discs of our lives?   The Lion Trees:  Part One:  Unraveling, poses these questions through close examination of a dysfunctional family in Columbus, Ohio.  Chapters cycle among the viewpoints of four main protagonists, with only one family member, Ben the innocent, being left without a voice of his own.  The others weave in and out, warping and wefting through the tragic unfolding of their lives.    Hollis, the father; his wife, Susan; and their apparently doomed son, David, occupy an early turn of this century present, extended to other dimensions of time through extensive flashbacks.  Only Tilly, the ultimate persona, an actress by profession, transcends the linear nature of time, flitting back and forth over decades past, present and future.  The whole cast occupies the same moment in time, with most of them being in the same physical place, only once, at a tragicomic celebration worthy of Mordecai Richler, but the fugal flashbacks create a Rashomon effect of multiple vantage points for many other important incidents in their lives.    This is a complex and serious book, exploring weighty themes with steady and precise writing.  The characters are real, their fates are moving, their dialogue is spot on.  I know many of these people.  Worse yet, I fear that I am some of them, or at least parts of me are present in parts of them.  And not the good parts.  The mirror is held close, and the reflection is not always pleasing.  Owen Thomas has been compared, favorably, to John Updike, and the nod to Rabbit’s creator is not far from the mark.    As Part One:  Unraveling closes, it seems like things can’t get much worse for Tilly, and especially for David, whose own unraveling is reminiscent of Sherman McCoy’s in Bonfire of the Vanities.  Fortunately for those who want the characters to break out of the cycle of return, to start a new day and perhaps escape the fates foretold for them, there is hope, if not certainty of salvation, in the second volume of this lengthy work.  This reviewer hasn’t read it yet, but is turning immediately to The Lion Trees:  Part Two:  Awakening.   Regardless of the outcome, Owen Thomas has shown a mastery of craft that sustains this original and engrossing new novel.  It is one of the best works of literary fiction that I have read in a very long time.
AvidReader59IK More than 1 year ago
Extraordinary Read - Not Your Ordinary Family Saga The Lion Trees by Owen Thomas is a great new literary fiction piece. Don't let the length of the story scare you off. Take your time. Enjoy every page. Don't rush, don't feel overwhelmed. Sit back, relax and join one dysfunctional family's story. Complex, entertaining, exhilarating, entertaining. The author has done an amazing job at developing his characters. Readers will feel like they are a part of the story. Mr. Thomas has an amazing sense of the old great American novels of the past and has done an excellent job at giving us a Great American novel of the present. As they say, slow and steady wins the race. Take your time with this book, enjoy every word, every sentence, every page. You won't be disappointed. Best Literary Fiction piece of the year!!! Highly Recommended!!!
Maertel More than 1 year ago
THE LION TREES' characters are so vividly imprinted that, as soon as I finished Volume I, I started it over because I missed being with them. If you like to underline the great parts of books or to fold corners over, order this in Paperback. From its first lines, Owen Thomas leads readers on a challenging, mysterious, and laugh out loud search for some kinds of Truth. Right away, we care - from The Mother of Katrina on into David's strangely compelling rat modes and missteps. Many of us have made a lot of the same mistakes in our early years, but, geez, David makes nearly ALL of them. How can he SOUND so brilliant and ACT so stupid?!? And yet, his classroom dynamic is inspiring for teachers, old and new. The rhythm of the pages rarely falters. I've enjoyed reading The Prologue (usually so forgettable) over and over. There's a magic here in the power of the dark light of reality subtly flowing along with jarring discords. Resonance. Regarding other characters: on moving into Volume 2, my deepest hope is that Angus Mann does not turn out to be a total jerk or die. Most others have shown a darker side, but so far he's my favorite. (Even though he persists in the 'you gotta get IT just the way I'm thinking IT or you just ain't right." Glad he wasn't The Teacher.) Maybe V.2 will close with him hammering a selfie stick into both plough shares and spears? It would be good to know what he looks like. Hollis and I went back and forth, then have parted ways until he reconciles his unorthodox ultraconservatism & joining of Buddhism with his treatment of his tree. The Buddha also may be curious about how he veered so far off The Eightfold Path. It's not all perfect: enough with The Dead Fish, Seinfeld (urp), and the color yellow obsessions and...Lt. Miller should count his blessings - at least he won't be stranded with Susan and Jar Jar Binks. And, David's aversion to 911 and Hollis' skewering of Phoenix into a good idea do strain credibility. On second reading, much of SUSAN got skipped. She was tough to endure the first time around. Readers may well wish for a Volume III where Sadie journeys to Africa and actually talks with the people, servants and everyone else, and where there are keener observations of buildings, landmarks, scenery, ambience, markets, and insights taken in from the time she sees it all from her plane until she revisits The Lion Trees. Unlike Tilly and company, she might actually listen to the music and make lifelong friends. It would be great to see a blockbuster LION TREES movie released for the first day of school, 2016!
gbowers More than 1 year ago
This book is a must read! I found myself waking at all hours of the night to finish another chapter. This contemporary family unravels one by one as they seek to understand their own drama Thomas is a brilliant writer who weaves the individual into the family that needs more than life will allow. The other reviews I read helped me to understand the rabbit hole they all would be rushing down before the "rest of story" could be told. I enjoyed this book!