REVIEW OF "THE RED TREE" BY CAITLIN KIERNAN [2/5]
I wanted to like this book so much. Lesbians? Lovecraftian horror? Awesome! It was going to be great. Unfortunately, The Red Tree turned out to be a truly mediocre book.
The novel begins with a preface from the editor of our main character, Sarah Crowe. We learn quickly that Sarah is dead and what will follow is the Sarah's journal from the time she arrived at the White farm to the time she died.
Sarah is a washed-up writer with a dead girlfriend (can't have happy queer people, after all, though I'll let it slide since this is a horror novel) trying to get away from her past in a new house. She has left behind everybody she has ever known, and apparently has zero friends and no family. She finds the unfinished manuscript of the last tenant, who killed himself, and begins reading about his obsession with the red tree, which stands 75 yards from the house and is visible from the kitchen. A few weeks later, Constance Hopkins moves in to the attic, an artist inevitably turned love interest since Sarah never sees other human beings. The story follows Sarah learning more about the old oak outside and dealing with its supernatural influence along with the baggage of her past relationship.
Kiernan won't let you forget that this is a journal, as the prose is unbearably rambling and often unimportant. While Sarah notes that she knows she "digresses," she will still do it at least once a chapter, leaving you skipping complete paragraphs as you try to find the point. These digressions also tend to turn into authorial soapboxes concerning the art of writing, thinly veiled as Sarah's own opinions.
Sarah is one of the most unlikeable characters I've ever read, and worse than that, she's not even interesting. I couldn't give a damn one way or another what happens to her. She is quick to anger, whiny, irrational, and obnoxiously pessimistic. While some of these can be excused due to her developing depression, that doesn't resolved the fact that Sarah has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. She definitely has personality, but it's not a personality that I care or want to read about.
In the second half of the book, the plot hinges on the overused and lazy trope of not communicating. Where real people would flat-out tell the other person an important detail of what has happened, Sarah and Constance prefer to avoid the topic altogether, even when it's obvious that their lives are at stake.
On a more technical level, this book is the victim of comma abuse. Comma splices abound, and the rambling nature of Sarah's voice doesn't help, either. There is nothing concise about this book in the least, which is probably how it ended up at 350+ pages when it should have been 200.
The only saving grace for this book is that the plot around the tree is enticing. I wanted to know more about the history and lore surrounding this thing and it's strange evilness. I only found myself growing excited when the tree would start to mess with Sarah and Constance, but the moment it stopped was the moment I stopped caring.
For a horror novel, it also severely lacked a scare factor. Fear is subjective, of course, but I only experienced one scene where I actually felt tense or anxious. As the entire book is written after events have taken place, the depicted scenes easily lose any sense of urgency or threat that they might have had otherwise.
I think the book's biggest issue is Sarah Crowe. She's not interesting, she's not likeable, and her writing is abysmal. Had this story been told outside of a journal format, I perhaps would have liked it more just because I wouldn't have to deal with Sarah's horrendous digressions, but I think swapping Sarah out with literally anyone else would have made it a thousand times better. I would rather read about modern day Joffrey Baratheon dealing with this tree because while I hate him, at least he's an interesting character.
All in all, this novel was mediocre and definitely not worth the time I put into it. It had potential, but Sarah's poor character and the form of the story ruined any chance it had at being good.