CLIMBING THE GOD TREE by Jaimee Wriston Colbert

CLIMBING THE GOD TREE

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A debut novel made up of linked stories (winner of the 1997 Willa Cather Prize) set in a haunted Maine town. There are plenty of places like Rock Harbor, Maine: Small towns, not moribund but hardly well-to-do, inhabited by locals who seem friendlier and more even-tempered than they really are, and by transplants who are afraid to let on how much they still feel out of place after all the years they've been there. Rock Harbor has one big difference, though, insofar as it's the site of a federal prison. Naturally, the pen is well cut off from the rest of the community, but there are still roads that you can't drive down without a pass, a couple of towers on the horizon, and people who go to work there every day instead of to the IGA or Jiffy Lube. Eli Hyde, for example. An artist married to carpenter Dallas Hyde, Eli conducts art therapy classes among the inmates. Eli and Dallas lost their baby Benjamin some years before and moved around a lot afterward before they got to Rock Harbor. At the prison, one of Eli's pupils is Mort Salvitore. A murderer, Mort flirts with Eli and eventually falls in love with her. Initially repelled by Mort, Eli is soon surprised to find herself responding to his attention, which makes her marriage to Dallas, already badly strained by the death of their baby, even more difficult to sustain. Eli and Dallas talk of leaving Rock Harbor; Mort goes into a depression when Eli stops seeing him; and the local townsfolk go about their daily routines, oblivious to the stench of the murder that Mort committed on their doorstep years ago. Can the past be redeemed? Or even just overcome? If Colbert's characters are as hopeless as they seem, what keeps them going? Eerie, understated, and deft. Colbert uses atmosphere the way David Lean uses scenery: it's not enough to make up for the weaknesses of plot, but it can certainly distract you from them along the way.

Pub Date: Dec. 31st, 1998
Page count: 212pp
Publisher: Helicon Nine