The Red Tree
by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Cover Artist: Gene Mollica
Review by Carolyn Frank
Roc Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451462763
Date: 04 August 2009 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
A massive, centuries-old red oak tree located in an abandoned farm in rural northwestern Rhode Island is The Red Tree. Its presence looms in this story within a story, a deeply-disturbing journal of a depressed writer's journey into death. As the reader is advised in the "Editor's Preface", Sarah Crowe has sent her type-written journal of her last months spent at this farm to her editor, who after limited investigation and editing, is publishing it as a book.
Sarah Crowe is a middle-aged Southern lesbian writer who comes to this place as an escape after her last lover committed suicide. She is hoping to begin work on her next novel which is already late for its promised delivery. Instead, suffering from a bad case of writer's block, she spends time exploring her surroundings. She makes visits to the red tree and investigates the entire house including the basement.
There she finds an old typewriter and the start of a manuscript written by Dr. Charles L. Harvey, a now-deceased professor who was the last tenant of the house and who had researched some of the history of the red tree. According to his research as read by Sarah, over the centuries many truly nasty and scary events have occurred at the flat altar-like stone abutting the seemingly malevolent red tree. Using the typewriter, Sarah starts a journal, which is the story presented in the book.
This is very dark fantasy, with a mixture of foreboding and interior horror that catches the reader up from the start and intensifies throughout the tale. Both the red tree and the dank endlessness of the basement of the house take on more and more worrying aspects. Believing she has nowhere else she can go, Sarah begins her retreat from life. A combination of the Blair Witch Project (which is mentioned in the book) and Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, this book is for people who want to be carried along by well-chosen words with depths of dark illusions into a descent into a personal hell.