Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan

There are few stylists I admire more than Caitlin R. Kiernan. Her prose is, in my humble opinion, exemplary of what, what should be done with dark fiction. It is lush without being baroque, earthy but never banal. And this is to say nothing of her cyclopean imagination, or her ability to draft characters so resonant with the flawed outsider in us all that one feels their heart being squeezed through the page.

I am not much of a novel reader. But Ms. Kiernan's novels are ones I actually look forward to because, unlike a number of writers who simply pad and stretch anaemic storylines until they reach a commercially viable page-length, Caitlin R. Kiernan's novels unfurl as tales that demand the longer narrative. There is no padding, only layers, textures, shades.

Never was this truer than with her 2009 novel The Red Tree.

I shan't bother summarizing the plot here, but will instead praise the novel's ingenuity. Yes, it is a haunted house story. But it is the most startlingly original take on the concept since Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves. Kiernan strips away the trite conventions of the perfect family who moves into their dream home, only to find their Norman Rockwell lifestyle disrupted by the great Other. Instead she presents us with Sarah Crowe, a young woman who carries several ghosts of her own; ghosts of troubled relationships, of loss, of pain.

In other words, the ghosts we all cart within our heads and hearts.

The house and the titular tree in its environ exude both terror and beauty. While there are scenes of raw terror in The Red Tree (it is the first book in a long while to actually frighten me), the book is also a feast for those who enjoy the aesthetics of the weird tale; the uncanny, that sense of the ancient and the ineffable.

If there is any justice in the world, The Red Tree will go on to be hailed as a classic of fantastic literature.

Copies can (and should) be had here.