The Crying Tree

The Crying Tree

by Naseem Rakha


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767931748
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 07/06/2010
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 246,010
Product dimensions: 8.06(w) x 5.36(h) x 0.81(d)

About the Author

NASEEM RAKHA is an award-winning broadcast journalist whose stories have been heard on NPR. She lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Read an Excerpt

The Crying Tree
Naseem Rakha

C H A P T E R 1
October 1, 2004

THE DEATH WARRANT ARRIVED THAT morning, packaged in a large white envelope marked confidential and addressed to Tab Mason, Superintendent, Oregon State Penitentiary. Mason had been warned the order might be coming. A couple of weeks earlier, the Crook County DA had let the word slip that after nineteen years on death row, condemned murderer Daniel Joseph Robbin had stopped his appeals.
Mason dropped the envelope on his desk, along with a file about as thick as his fist, then ran his hand over the top of his cleanly shaved skull. He’d been in corrections for twenty years–Illinois, Louisiana, Florida–and on execution detail a half- dozen occasions, but he’d never been in charge of the actual procedure. Those other times he’d simply walked the guy into the room, strapped him down, opened the blinds on the witness booth, then stood back and waited. He’d worked with one guy in Florida who’d done the job fifty times. “It becomes routine,” the officer told Mason, who was busy puking into a trash can after witnessing his fi rst execution.
Now Mason slid into his chair, flicked on his desk lamp, and opened Robbin’s file. There was the man’s picture. A front and side shot. He had been nineteen years old when he was booked, had long scraggly hair and eyes squinted to a hostile slit. Mason turned the page and began to read. On the afternoon of May 6, 1985, Daniel Joseph
Robbin beat, then shot fifteen-year-old Steven Joseph Stanley (aka “Shep”) while in the process of robbing the boy’s home at 111 Indian Ridge Lane. The victim was found still alive by his father, Deputy Sheriff Nathaniel Patrick Stanley, but died before medical assistance could arrive. The remaining family members–wife and mother, Irene Lucinda Stanley, and twelve-year-old Barbara Lee (aka Bliss)–were not present during the incident. The Stanleys, who were originally from Illinois, had been living in Oregon for a year and a half when the incident occurred.
The superintendent leafed through more pages–court documents, letters, photos–then leaned back in his chair and looked out his window. A squat rectangular building sat on its own toward the north end of the prison’s twenty-five-acre grounds. The last time someone had been executed out there was seven- plus years ago. Mason had been working his way up through the ranks at the Florida State Prison out of Raiford, aspiring for a job like the one he had now–head of a large correctional institution, good salary, power. He blew out a long, disgusted breath. Why now? The Oregon penitentiary was way overcrowded, inmates doubled up in their cells, half of them out of their minds; fights were breaking out left and right, gangs getting tougher to handle; there were race issues, drugs–all while funding for counseling and rehab continued to get slashed. Why now, and why this?
Mason reread the warrant. The execution was scheduled for October 29, 12:01 A.M.
“Less than a goddamn month,” he said, shaking his head. Then, as if to rouse himself, he clapped his mismatched hands, one as dark as the rest of his black skin, one strangely, almost grotesquely white. There was no complaining in this job, he told himself. No moaning about what needed to be done. No stammering or stuttering or doing anything that might show the slightest bit of resistance or hesitancy. No. Everything in his career had been leading him to this kind of challenge: his demeanor, his words, his actions would all set a tone. And he knew exactly what that tone had to be.

From the Hardcover edition.

Reading Group Guide

Dear Readers,
In 1996, I was assigned to cover Oregon’s first execution in over thirty years. At the time I had never given much thought to the death penalty and what it would take for the state to plan out, prepare, and then kill a man. After the assignment, I wanted to learn more, so I began to interview death-row inmates, the people they had harmed, and the men and women we entrust to carry out our nation’s most severe sentence. During that time I heard many stories, some of them abhorrent and some heartbreaking, but by far the most compelling were those told by the people who had come to terms with the murder of a loved one and no longer felt it necessary to seek retribution. This arc, from the most desperate kind of anguish to reconciliation and even love stunned me, and compelled me to write The Crying Tree.
I offer these questions because they are the very ones I asked myself as I wrote this book.


Why did Irene believe that she could not tell anyone about having forgiven Robbin? What did she think would happen? What was she afraid of? Have you ever forgiven someone but been afraid to admit it?


Do you think that, like Irene, you could forgive someone who harmed your family?


Irene tells her sister that forgiving Robbin was not a choice. What do you think she meant?


Do you think it is necessary to have a belief in a God or a higher power to have made the choices Irene made? Do you think the ability to forgive can be learned?


In the first chapter, Tab Mason describes his reaction to seeing his first execution. Have you ever given much thought to how executions affect those who must carry them out?


Secrets—Nate’s, Shep’s, Irene’s—are the driving force behind the tragedy in this story. Do you think it is common for families to operate in such isolation from one another?


Nate says he moved his family west to help Shep. How did he think this would help?


How would you describe the novel’s central message or theme? And how does the ending of the book affect your understanding of the novel’s central message or theme?


Tab Mason has an unusual skin disorder. Why do you think I chose to mark him in such a way? What difference would it make, if any, if he were simply a black man? Or a white man?


Tab Mason is a man who offers “no surprises.” He is painstakingly in control of his words, his thoughts, and his emotions. And this has paid off, giving him the job, power, and resources to live a very comfortable life. Why then do you think he was willing to risk it all to help Irene Stanley?


Bliss recounts a time she found her father having an emotional breakdown while in the barn. The event was heart-wrenching for her. Bliss loved and cared for her father more than anyone, yet she does nothing to try to help. Does it make sense to you that Bliss did not try to step in and help her father?


Irene and Bliss had a difficult relationship. How was this transformed by Irene’s act of forgiveness?


Bliss feels compelled to forgo her dream of college so that she can stay in Carlton and help her parents. Have you had times in your life when you have given up your dreams to help others?


Why do you think Daniel Robbin refuses the offer to introduce new evidence that might overturn his murder conviction?


In the end, Nate is in a bus going to Shep’s grave. Why do you think he is doing this? Do you think Nate’s  character changed over the course of the book? If so, how? If not, why not?


Irene’s relationship with her church and faith were challenged in this story. In the end do you think her belief in God was stronger or weaker?

17. Why, of all the people Irene had in her life, did she open up to Doris, the woman who owned the Hitching Post in Wyoming?


After Nate’s confession, Irene leaves her husband. As she drives across the country, how do her feelings about her son’s death, Nate , and herself change?


Irene had strong feelings about staying around her family (“You don’t leave family,” in chapter 2). Yet emotionally, Irene did leave her family. She was not there for her daughter through high school, she never turned to her sister for help, and she and Nate’s relationship was estranged. In the end, what did this belief in family mean? What conclusions about Nate and Irene’s future can you draw from this sentiment?


In the end, what do you think Irene, Bliss, and Tab Mason’s actions meant to Daniel Robbin?

Customer Reviews

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Crying Tree 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
Terrih74 More than 1 year ago
Shep Stanley is a loner, a mama's boy with a God given musical gift. When he is murdered in his home at the age of 15, his family's world spins out of control. Nothing is ever again the same, as if the soul of the family was murdered along with Shep. The murder occurs as the book opens, and guides us through the eighteen year long wait for the execution of Shep's killer. What the family learns along the way leads them to redemption, and teaches the reader about the healing power of forgiveness. I have been an avid reader for 40 years, and this is one of the best books I have ever read. I read through the night. This book should come with a warning label - do not be surprised if at the end of the book you weep. Weeping in part because of the heartbreak of their story - the strength they show through the heartbreak - the way they heal - and because you feel a bit cheated as you never want this amazing novel to end. As the killer comments right before he dies. "You've gone and done it now, General. You've really gone and done it now....Pain and grace, sir. Pain and grace." I can't wait to read Naseem Rakha's next book. Through The Crying Tree she has proven that she is a fresh new voice with a gift to share with those of us lucky enough to seek and receive her light.
happyreaderKK More than 1 year ago
This was receommended by my friend at Barnes and Noebl. It was a good read. I liked reading about the characters, how they moved, the tragedy and how they dealt witht he tragedy. Overall very well worth the time I am still thinking about this book weeks later.
retromom More than 1 year ago
The Crying Tree is a story about what happens to the Stanley family after their fifteen year old son is tragically murdered in a home invasion. The family harbors many secrets from each other and when the secrets are revealed it is emotional and shocking. The book also tells the story from three sides- the family, the murderer, and the executioner. I could not put this book down. The story takes place in different time periods and two different locations, Oregon and Illinois, but the transition is easy to follow. That is something I usually have a hard time with in books but the author has made the transition smooth and easy. Some of the subject matter is painful and difficult but very important to the powerful story of grief and forgiveness. This book would be great for discussions and book clubs. I like Ms. Rakha's writing style and will be watching out for her next book.
TR1952 More than 1 year ago
I have just completed Naseem Rakha's work, "The Crying Tree", and feel moved to write with words of commendation and deep appreciation. I discovered the novel at an area Barnes & Noble bookstore where it was displayed with works by emerging new writers. The cover featured a young boy with a trumpet--an instant attraction to this recently retired school band director! Reading the cover notes confirmed my need to purchase. I am struck by the clean and simple way the novel reads... it reminds me of the elegant balance of a Mozart. I was hooked instantly with dialogue, character, and action that resonates as "true-to-life". Well-crafted and polished, I am now enjoying a slower re-read to savor the richness of its descriptive nuance In the process of reading, I grew to truly care for the players in the story and their struggles. The issue of forgiveness is profoundly important for our times. My parish is offering a series on capital punishment, and I have recommended "Crying Tree" for discussion. I look forward to Rakha's next works with anticipation and will continue to sing the praises of "Crying Tree".
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
Debut author Naseem Rakha has penned a touching albeit sad story of a family riven by grief. Her characters are hobbled, not crippled physically but emotionally, sickened by hatred, isolated by an inability to communicate, and driven to find reason for the inexplicable. Our story opens in 2004 when Tad Mason , Superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, receives notice that after 19 years an execution date has been set for Daniel Robbin. The condemned man had been but 19-years-old himself when he was found guilty of beating and then shooting a 15-year-old boy, Shep Stanley, during an attempted home robbery. Now, after all this time Robbin has stopped his appeals and it fell to Mason to make sure the execution is carried out properly and promptly. He'd never been in charge of what he referred to as a "procedure" before, and he has no stomach for it. However, it is his job and his career depends upon it being done correctly. Flashback to the fall of 1983 when Nate Stanley arrives home to tell his wife, Irene, that he has accepted a better job as deputy sheriff in the tiny town of Blaine, Oregon. The family which also consists of their two children, Bliss and Shep, will be relocating immediately. Irene does not want to leave the won in which she grew up, her family and lifelong friends, but she acquiesces and the family moves. They seem to be adjusting well to their new life when Shep is shot, killed in the family home. Shep's death was inconceivable to her, "There was no way she would let her boy die. He was her life, her breath, her son.....A mother does not let her son die." But Shep is gone. Mourning may take many forms. Nate becomes stone, quiet, silent. Irene finds release in alcohol and an ever growing hatred for her son's killer. Bliss is left very much to her own resources. Impervious to the pleas of her sister, Carol, to pull herself together Irene sinks lower until she hits rock bottom. It is years later after a heated confrontation with Bliss that she realizes what she has become, and she tries to help herself by writing a letter to Daniel in which she offers forgiveness. For this reader that is at the heart of Rakha's story - forgiveness. At one point Irene asks Superintendent Mason if he believes in forgiveness. His answer is, "I've heard of it." All of us have and The Crying Tree may cause many of us to redefine forgiveness in our own lives. - Gail Cooke
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1983 Union County, Illinois deputy sheriff Nate Stanley calls his wife Irene to inform her without warning that he accepted a position as a deputy post in Oregon. Irene is angry at her husband for not talking to her before he took the job with his Viet Nam buddy and frightened as she never was west of St, Louis. Still insisting he knows what is best for her and their two kids (teenager Shep and tweener Bliss), he relocates the family. In Blaine, Oregon, fifteen years old Shep enjoys exploring the countryside and seems settled to the living on the West Coast. However, one day Nate comes home after a shift to find his son in their kitchen savagely beaten and shot in what looks like a robbery turned ugly; Shep dies in his arms. Stunned, Nate and Irene go after the accused cold blooded killer of their oldest child mechanic Daniel Joseph Robbin with cold blooded determination over the next two decades until he is executed by the state. During much of the obsession, Bliss becomes de facto caretaker of her parents as Irene lives for the devil's death and Nate cannot find any solace. However, in 2004 with the execution date set, Irene knows she must see and forgive her son's killer, whom she recently began exchanging letters with, if she is to move on. THE CRYING TREE is a fabulous family drama that focuses on what happens to surviving loved ones when a violent unexpected tragedy occurs. The five key players in this calamity are fully developed in 1983 and in 2004; ergo the audience sees how much they each has changed over the two decades from the murder to the execution. Although a major "truism" twist will be seen early by everyone and feels intrusive, fans will appreciate Naseem Rakha's engaging aptly titled character story. Harriet Klausner
kren250 More than 1 year ago
The Crying Tree is about what happens to a family when their son dies in a horrible accident. Teenager Shep Stanley is shot and killed in his own home during a botched burglary attempt. After his death, his parents and younger sister Bliss are forced to deal not only with Shep's death, but their feelings of hatred towards the person who shot him. Eventually, they come to realize that the murderer is not what he seems, and has some secrets of his own that will impact the family forever. I thought that the plot was a bit predictable, and the characters somewhat stereotypical. I also thought the characters had an unrealistic, out-dated look towards one of the main themes later on in the novel. I found it hard to believe that everyone would be that closed minded and hateful about this particular theme in the year 2004. I also thought the book got a bit preachy towards the end. Despite all that, I still thought the book was an interesting (and quick) read.
CathyB More than 1 year ago
Imagine yourself in the early 1970's. A time when bell bottoms, mini skirts and platform shoes ruled the fashion world. The birth of Aerosmith, Kiss and the Ramones took center stage in the music world. A time of political awakening. Now imagine yourself knowing nothing about this and living in an isolated town in Oregon. You are living what appears to be the American dream - married, two kids (one boy, one girl), etc.... But, then tragedy strikes and what you love most in the world is taken from you. Your only son is brutally murdered in your home. ----- How do you cope? How do you go on living? What kind of a life do you have? Can there be justice? "In The Crying Tree", we are witness to one family's struggle to survive. We share their grief and feel their desperation. We observe as they become bitter and frustrated with one another - they become strangers. There is forgiveness. There are secrets. There are sins of commission and sins of omission. When these are brought to the forefront, we see the unbreakable bonds of family surface. ----- Ms. Rakha is a wonderful story teller. She was able to hold my attention until the end. I wanted to know how things would work out. The characters were sympathetic including the murderer. This is a tragic novel; however, it is also one of love, forgiveness and redemption. I recommend to those searching for a new voice. A good book for book clubs. ----- Thank you Shelf Awareness and Random House for this copy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Depressing but thought provoking.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great Book discussion book. Lots of issues to discuss from various viewpoints. It is a heart wringer of a story--towards the end you'll need a box of tissues close by.
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This is a really good book... Though, I must say I could have done without the sexual innuendo/tension that was developed for Tab and Bliss, a little out of place in the story ( to me ). Really a great book otherwise..
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brat1978 More than 1 year ago
love all the topics covered in this book! The writer really gets you to "that place" when you are reacing!i highyly regommend this book for adults!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very well written book. Serious subjects, raw emotions and interesting twists and turns along the way. This ia a story that you will think about for months, maybe longer.
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