Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Red Tree by Caitlin R Kiernan - RIP V Review V

I picked up The Red Tree for the RIP V Challenge. I had gotten it from the library because it was recommended by amazon, but never got around to reading it. It was a perfect Halloween season book for sure. From the back cover:
Sarah Crowe left Atlanta, and the remnants of a tumultuous relationship, to live alone in an old house in rural Rhode Island. Within its walls she discovers an unfinished manuscript written by the house’s former tenant—a parapsychologist obsessed with the ancient oak growing on a desolate corner of the property. And as the gnarled tree takes root in her imagination, Sarah risks her health and her sanity to unearth a revelation planted centuries ago…
At the beginning of the novel, you are immediately told on the first page that Sarah Crowe is dead, and she has left behind this diary which was later apparently published. The editor makes some notes, but for the most part the novel is all snippets of Sarah's journal.

I don't really know what I was expecting from this book, honestly. I don't generally read horror books, but this sounded almost...noir. Gothic. Overall, I really enjoyed it. At first, the writing style grated on my nerves. It's a very informal narrative, as you'd expect a journal to be. Also, Sarah goes off on tangents like you wouldn't believe. It makes the narrative confusing, and after awhile I started to skim.

You slowly get impressions of something...wrong. Snippets. A lot of the creepyness comes from legends that the previous tennant had collected. There are weird things that happen actually in the narrative, but alone they really aren't all that scary. The prose that Kiernan uses is original and elegantly done.

There's never really any explanation of anything. I kept waiting for it, because I wanted to know more about why these things were happening, not just that they were. The reasons never came. I sort of feel that that was done on purpose, and that Kiernan was relying on the anticipation of being scared shitless rather than actual events.

Something that is worth mentioning is some explicit content in this book. Sarah is a lesbian, and that plays a fair role in this book. She thinks about sex a lot, there are some fairly graphic descriptions of some really...strange sexual practices. Putting it mildly. It seemed like they were just tossed in there for shock value. I consider myself fairly worldly and a few pages had me a little squicked. Sarah also curses like a sailor, so if that bothers you I'd recommend steering clear.

I'm glad I gave this a try, but I'm also glad to be moving onto another book. It gave me the willies but it won't keep me up tonight. There were a couple of scenes that had me on the edge of my seat, but for the most part this wasn't un-put-down-able. I'll probably pick up another Kiernan book at some point, but I'm not in a hurry.

Bottom Line
Overall Rating: 3 / 5
Buy or Try? Try
More? Standalone

Plot: 3 / 5 (pretty predictable, really)
Setting: 4 / 5  (creepy, and beautifully "illustrated")
Characters: 3.5 / 5 (I really didn't like her, but Sarah was well-written)
Pace: Slow
Descriptiveness: Mix of poetry and prose
Fantasy factor: Magical Realism link


Kailana said...

It sounds good. Too bad you didn't like it a bit more, though. I might give it a try, though.

Chay said...

This one is on my list for RIP V too. Looking forward to reading it. Kiernan is rather hit or miss for me. Some of her books I love, and others I find unreadable.

Escapist said...

Kailana, you may like it more than I did! :)

Chay, I can't wait to see your review!

BookGirlR said...

This book is on my wishlist. I really like all of her other books!

Shellie - Layers of Thought said...

I just read a great short by her so I am intrigued by her full length books.

But sadly I have not heard great things... but I am not the run of the mill reader. We shall see. :) Thanks!

merlin513 said...

So I see that i wasn't the only one that this book left feeling that something was lacking. My comments jive very closely to yours, we seem to have liked the same elements and disliked the lack of direction.

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