Homer's Travels: Book: Caitlín R. Kiernan's "The Red Tree"

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book: Caitlín R. Kiernan's "The Red Tree"

Every now and then I like to try something new, or I revisit a genre that I have neglected, to see if I was missing something.  Caitlín R. Kiernan's "The Red Tree" is one of these experiments.  "The Red Tree" could be described as horror, dark fantasy, or psychological thriller.

I have dabbled in these types of books before reading a couple Steven King novels and some H.P. Lovecraft short stories (Lovecraft is even quoted near the end of "The Red Tree").  It should be noted that one of the King books and a Lovecraft anthology are two, of the handful of books, I have failed to complete so delving back into this genre was a little risky for me.

To add to my uncertainty about this book, the Wife saw the cover and wondered what the heck I was reading.  I have to admit it looks a lot like those bad romance covers with the woman running from the old gothic house.

"The Red Tree" follows the journal entries of Sarah Crowe, an author who had just left a failed relationship, one where her partner had committed suicide.  She moves to an old house in Rhode Island in an attempt to forget and to write another novel.  A preface, written by her fictitious editor, reveals in the beginning that Sarah will commit suicide.  For the rest of the book I became fascinated in finding out what drove Sarah to her death.

The book is named after a 300 year old Red Oak, not far from the house, purported to be haunted.  After discovering a manuscript of a book about the tree written by the previous occupant of the house, who hung himself from the same said red tree, she begins the long spiral into obsession.

Sarah is soon joined by another tenant of the house, a painter named Constance.  Instead of being a steadying factor in Sarah's life, Constance reinforces her obsessions.

The book ends before Sarah's suicide ... of course ... and ends abruptly as you would expect.  After I closed the book for the last time I sat there in bed and tried to put the story into some logical conclusion.  I managed to do so after some thought and realizations.  Few books do this for me and I really enjoyed the sensation of discovery, after the fact, that it induced.  It might just be me but I did not see the end and the conclusion coming.  I was caught by surprise and loved every bit of it.

One last thing.  Sarah is gay, just like the main character of "The Steel Remains" that I reviewed a while back. Kiernan does a much better job in developing the character than Morgan does.  I think it's because Kiernan treats Sarah as a human.  If you made her heterosexual and swapped the sex of her partner, the relationship and the story wouldn't change.  Her relationship with her ex-partner, and with Constance, are treated like any 'normal' relationship, exactly as they should be.  Morgan's characterization is cartoonish and stereotypical.

I read this book in a week.  I haven't done this in a while.  Kiernan has a great way with words and her prose flows easily.  It was a delight to read.  I recommend this book highly.


  1. Lovecraft makes my timbers shiver. Talk about not being able to sleep!!

    I am glad that you really enjoyed this, especially after feeling blah about the last one. :)

  2. Miss McC: It was much better than the other. You can't win them all though.

  3. I can see why The Wife wondered at the cover since it looks a little on the verge of naughtiness! :D

  4. You used to tease me about reading books with "a girl and a haunted house" on the front...Ha!

  5. JaG: Actually there is a little naughtiness in the book but it is minimal and unobtrusive.

    Mom: Guilty as charged!!! :-)

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  7. I apologize for my previous comment.

    However and honestly I fail to see how those suicide's motives can be "fascinating". This and the fact that you discover the hero's fate at the very beginning decided me not to even consider reading it.

  8. Godefroy: The book explores the decent into insanity more than the motives for suicide though they related in this book. The payoff is when you, the reader, realizes what it truth and what is delusion.

    I hope you don't use my pathetic attempt at a review to stop you from considering it.

  9. http://genteecologica.blogspot.com/