The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book. This fucking book. It was, without a doubt, one of the most horrifying reads that I've ever had the pleasure to sit in a corner, cowering, and enjoy. And not just because of the Lovecraftian weirdness or the Poe style atmosphere being built up over the course of the novel. No, not simply for that.
The plot to this story is a fairly easy to follow one. Sarah Crowe, amidst her seizures and guilt over the suicide of her lover, Amanda, and her own writer's block, has moved to Providence. She has moved into a small country house and is living there, dirt poor, and chronicling her experiences, thoughts, memories, and feelings into a journal.
Simple enough set up. But then things start getting weird. Real weird. And I'm not enough of an asshole to spoil it here so if you want to know then you are going to have to simply hop on over to amazon or go to a book store and buy this beautiful book.
So then, if I'm not willing to get into the oddities of this little gem, if I'm not willing to spoil the impossibilities there within to illustrate just how horrifying this book was to me, how do I convey it? Simply enough, actually. By talking about the other thing this book has going on, by talking about the insight that Kiernan has when it comes to the experience of being a writer.
First there are a few things I want to get out of the way. Namely this: Kiernan has a philosophy when it comes to her writing and that is that she does not believe that horror is a genre so much as an emotion, an feeling experienced and boy does she do well at having her characters--and readers--experience just that. The other thing is that this novel is rife with references to other literature, some of which is obvious, being quoted, some more subtle, and though I've not read nearly enough to say for certain, I get the feeling that some of our character, Sarah Crowe's experiences and feelings on her own writing can be reflected back onto Kiernan herself.
But, much like the character of this novel, I digress.
The thing that really made this book hit home for me was that Sarah Crowe, miserable old bitch though she might be, is somewhere near my own heart. As a writer myself I can attest to that abject misery that comes along with the writing process. Do not misunderstand, I love doing it, in a sick sort of way. In the way that someone might have a fetish for pain to I have a fetish for writing and by god does it terrify me to be in a state where the well has run dry.
I think Bukowski said it best in his poem, "So you want to be a writer," something along the lines of, "Unless being still would drive you to madness of murder." That's what its like, I think. That's the feeling of it. But if it were to run dry, then all you have left is that slow descent into bitterness and madness.
That's what Sarah Crowe had waiting for her, except she was already bitter. And that's frightening. Having nothing left within you to expunge, having nothing but your own need to be right, and your own bitterness. Having all that was good behind you and the only thing waiting for you up ahead is a slow fall into madness.
So, read this book. It is damn good.
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