T.L. Barrett's Reviews > The Red Tree

The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan
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it was amazing

It is a difficult thing to write a review after reading a novel such as Kiernan’s The Red Tree. So rarely have I read a book that is so cleverly written and so powerfully Gothic in its sensibilities that its effect is devastating to my imagination. I, at once, am grateful that I am not haunted by such a Gothic constitution as a writer and horrified that whatever natural talent I have pales in comparison. I know that at some point I will try to read another one of Kiernan’s works, but for now, I am taking a hiatus from reading such dark fiction. This brings me to the other difficulty with writing such a review: to honestly praise the work while being sure to warn the potential reader how dark and wicked this book really is.

The Red Tree is an epistolary novel in that it is the journal of the main character, book-ended with her editor’s notes. Sarah Crowe is an embittered and broken woman who flees to the seclusion of an old house in western Rhode Island which comes with its very own bevy of folklore surrounding it and the majestic oak that sits on the property. As a sweltering summer progresses, Sarah begins to experience real terror as she sifts through the research done by the previous renter, which she found in the odd basement of the house. Kiernan has employed the ‘unreliable narrator’, dream sequences, and the layering of folklore on top of the ghastly phenomena the character experiences to create a Gothic masterpiece. She does this with savvy, even having her narrator defend these devices as they are being used. My reading of the novel will continue to haunt my imagination, of that I am certain, as only a few novels I have read in my life have done. It is an unrepentant and difficult read full of Gothic chills and a pervasive sense of foreboding and gloom. I have noted some reviews from readers who have complained about the very strengths of the novel, as it being without the climactic all-reveal with which we are so complacently comfortable. Obviously these readers did not get what this mature work was doing; of them I am almost enviable.

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Reading Progress

August 5, 2019 – Started Reading
August 5, 2019 – Shelved
August 5, 2019 – Finished Reading

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