Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Review: Twisted Tree by Kent Meyers

I stumbled upon Twisted Tree by Kent Meyers while shopping at a Borders bookstore that was going out of business.  The horse and prairie on the cover caught my eye and I loved the title, understanding that it probably was not just a reference to a place or thing, but symbolism for the plot.  Us creative writing nerds get excited over subtleties.

However, once I read that it's yet another book about some young girl being victimized by a kidnapper, I felt repulsion and put it back on the shelf.  It seems every novel synopsis I've read by chance when pulling a book off a shelf has been about kidnapping, rape and murder, and quite frankly, I'm tired of it.  We have enough of that on TV.  I don't find it to be fascinating, but obviously the general public must, because they are the ones creating the demand for such TV shows and books.

Here is the summary on the back of the book:

"Hayley Jo Zimmerman is gone.  Taken.  And the people of her small town must come to terms with this event -- their loss, their place in it, and the secrets they all carry.  Here, one girl's story unfolds through the stories of her neighbors, her absence recasting and connecting them in a powerful tribute to the echoing, limitless effect one person's life can have on everyone she knows."

Not a bad description.  It doesn't give much away and is well written.  However, my impression was that I would be reading about every character's grief.   I've had enough grief in my own life and don't want to spend my free time reading about some concocted grief of fictional people.  I was buying books, because I wanted them to carry me away from my own grief.

Yet instinct told me to give the book a second look.  I picked it up again and read excerpts from reviews that caught my attention, and I decided to give the book a chance.  Now that I've completed reading it, I am thankful that I didn't judge the book by its description.  Twisted Tree is fine literature.  I lost count of how many times I gasped and thought, "I wish I could write like this.  This is brilliant."

I'm not just referring to the word choices and construction of sentences, but the way the entire plot is interwoven and how certain information was left unsaid, yet allowed to stomp around like an elephant in the room.   Using a grocery checker as the catalyst of introducing the town's characters was perfect.  What she thinks she learns about them from the food they buy ties in so well with one running theme of anorexia, symbolic of the shriveling away of one's self slowly over time, and how one serial killer decides to assist troubled girls with this disease by speeding up their demise.

After finishing the book, I read some reader comments and reviews online and was disturbed by their shallow nature.  Some readers were disappointed that it didn't turn out to be a book solely focusing on the acts of kidnapping, rape and murder (but something containing an admirable exploration of human nature).  Some were disappointed that the author didn't spell everything out for them (but left much up to interpretation, thus requiring reader participation).  The most common complaint was that Twisted Tree was not a novel, but a collection of short stories, leaving some readers feeling deceived or ripped off.  (I, on the other hand, felt fortunate to read a book that contained both the approaches of short stories and a novel, written by an author gifted enough to make it work.)

I love how so many characters don't even understand themselves or why they do what they do, and how each one has such a unique story.  Normally, when I am driven off course from the plot by the author in order to learn some boring background information, I do feel somewhat like I've got a pesky fly buzzing around my head.  I want to bat the intrusive explanatory chapter away and get back to the action.  However, I did not feel that way with Twisted Tree, because I trusted Kent Meyers to both make each chapter stand on its own as well as tie it all together with purpose.  Ultimately, the story of each living character ended up earning just as much of my attention, interest and awe as that first chapter entailing the kidnapping of the girl.

As a reader, I was continually pausing to set images and character quotes in my mind, knowing that I would come back to them later in some amazing, unpredictable way.  I knew that every poetic detail was significant.  One commentator said that she would have to go back and read the book several times to catch details she previously missed.  Isn't that what we say about a good movie?

Read this book when you are in a quiet space and can truly absorb each sentence.  This reading experience will stay with you as long as you stay with it.

1 comment:

fernvalley01 said...

Funny I, like you would appreciate for just the reasons others complained. I don't watch TV that is about deviant s and murderers and prefer not to read about it either. Such frightening minds out there