SINGLE TREE by Gary D. Svee


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 A slight tale of the ``rustler hunts'' of the early 1880s, during which ranchers banded together in vigilante groups and lynched anyone suspected of cattle stealing, or anyone who just happened to be in their way. Svee (Incident at Pishkin Creek, 1989) has assembled a cast so large that the story has no center. It begins with Samuel Wilders, his wife, Sarah, and their two children heading west in search of land to farm. Destitute, the Wilderses halt on the Montana prairie, where Samuel leaves his family to trade guns for fresh horses and meets his fate at the hands of the vigilantes. The burden of the plot then shifts to the killers' leader, Tolkien, and to Runs Toward, an Indian raised by one of the vigilantes, who leaves the group. Runs Toward has psychic premonitions, and readers are privy to key events in his childhood, but the only character with any real depth in the book is the evil Tolkien, a crazed man with a thirst for blood and an uncanny ability to manipulate people. Instead of using the rustler hunts to explore the conflict between the old West and encroaching civilization, the spirit of the wilderness and the businessman's idea of private property, charismatic leadership and demagoguery, Svee gives us a bland landscape in which all women are lovely and true even in the face of death, all Indians are savage but spiritually advanced, and all cowboys are long-suffering innocents. The book's real raison d'àtre is its graphic depiction of murder in several nastily detailed scenes. Except for Sam Wilders's, each killing seems inevitable: horrible, but somehow fitting. Tolkien is such a capable death- dealer, in fact, that it is unconvincing when Runs Toward finally makes him see the light. A jarring, bumpy narrative with a few poetic moments and the occasional implausible psychological insight.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-8027-4142-8
Page count: 204pp
Publisher: Walker
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1994