Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen

He tossed and turned in his bed. He'd hoped that now that he had commenced the maintenance and repair of Pratt Library, it might assuage his nighttime frets. He'd had such a good morning at the library, trapping the ceiling raccoons. Though there'd been some pushback in that situation, too. One little sharp-toed son of a bitch attached itself to the leg of Ronnie's pants, and he had to hobble-run to the front door and launch it with a catapulting kick out onto the front walk. 

He slammed the big oak library doors and leaned against them, panting.

"That's a wondrously resourceful method of pest control, dear," Olive called over from the circulation desk. 

~from p. 173 of Harry's Trees

As I write, it's Monday evening and I know I'm going to have trouble getting into the next book I read because the last, Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen, was so good that I already know it's going onto the favorites for 2019 pile; it got a solid 5 stars at Goodreads.

Harry's Trees starts with a memorial service. Harry's wife Beth is being memorialized at a Quaker gathering, where people sit quietly until one feels the urge to say something, sing, recite a poem, whatever they're compelled to do. A couple tell stories about Beth and then one plays a song on her flute. And, then Harry does something strange. We then go back in time to find out how Beth died, what happened in the moments before her death, and why Harry is tormenting himself with guilt.

In another part of Pennsylvania, Amanda has lost her husband Dean. The reader learns about the circumstances of Dean's death, as well. Amanda has a daughter named Oriana who believes that her father has taken on another form, with wings. Amanda has spent a year trying to nudge Oriana out of her fantasy world and into the reality that her father is dead and he's never coming back, without luck, when the local librarian in a library that's falling apart in a town without the funds to repair it hands Oriana a handmade book and advises her to check it out.

And, then their paths cross. Harry has quit his job to go to the forest. There, he is spotted hitting his head on a stone fence by Amanda, who is a nurse. Oriana sees more than Amanda does and because of what she's seen, she knows something about Harry and determines that he is somehow connected to her.

I'm being deliberately vague because Harry's Trees is so magical that I don't want to give anything away. The storyline absolutely did not go where I expected it to go, although there were some predictable threads. Harry ends up living in a treehouse on Amanda's property, built by her rugged deceased husband. Oriana inserts herself into Harry's life, reads him the handmade book, and comes up with a solution to assuage Harry's guilt and free him from the pain he's been holding onto. But, it's so unique that I don't want to tell you about it. Just read the book, okay?

Highly recommended - There are touches of magical realism in Harry's Trees but they're delicate touches, much like those in Sarah Addison Allen's books. There's a little tragedy, a little magic, sweet friendships, some pay-it-forward kindness, a couple of villains. Harry's Trees is about grief and healing, love and heartbreak, guilt and atonement, greed and generosity. It's about moving forward after the worst thing you can imagine happens and it's just beautiful. The scene I loved most is the final scene with the librarian, which brought me to tears but in a moving way, not a sad one.

I love, love, loved Harry and Amanda and Oriana. Especially Oriana. She's a delightful child — smart and cunning and a little wise, but not in a way that's far-fetched. Her belief in magic is handled beautifully. You see the connections that she does but you're aware, at the same time, that her viewpoint is both clever and full of the kind of childish wonder that most adults blow off. Harry understands her because he needs that kind of wonder in order to help him break free of the guilt that's weighing him down. Anyway, it's pretty much perfect. There were places I thought some of the prose could have been edited down a bit, but not enough to convince me to knock off even half a point.

I received a copy of Harry's Trees from MIRA (a Harlequin imprint) for review. Many thanks! I've recently read two MIRA books and I'm impressed with the quality. Back in the 90s, when I was involved in a romance writers' group, I recall reading a handful of MIRA titles, mostly fantasy/sci-fi, as I recall, each with a touch of romance. I love the direction they've taken this imprint.

There is a little extra material at the back of the copy I read (the cover image shown is the one I have). In it, the author talks about being told, early on, that his books were "very visual" and would make good movies, which led him into screenwriting. I just happened to have been thinking that it was easy to visualize this story and it would make a great movie, just before I read the author interview. Ha! Somebody turn Harry's Trees into a movie, please.

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  1. Anonymous3:14 PM

    Just finishing this book now. I really am loving it. For hosting a book group discussion on it, what foods or activity (besides discussion) might you pair with it? Thanks for ideas.

    1. Maybe a Yule log because of the trees in the title? I have only been in book groups that stick strictly to discussion without activities or food, so I'm probably the wrong person to ask. I'm glad you're enjoying it!


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