HANNAH VERSUS THE TREE by Leland de la Durantaye


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An heiress to the ancient money of a storied family seeks revenge for personal and global wrongs in this powerful debut novel.

Hannah is the precociously brilliant daughter of the Syrl family. Her rootlet of the family tree—which traces its origins back to Nordic conquest—is led by the somewhat scantily sketched figure of her renegade father, a lesser son who has rejected the lineage of rapacious, colonialist greed that has resulted in his family’s stratospheric wealth. Raised under the haphazard supervision of parents embroiled in the dissolutions of their respective marriages, Hannah and her unnamed male best friend (who narrates the book) are largely educated by the Old One and the Wise One. These are two aging grandparents who provide the children with access to the myth structures of the native peoples who once walked the woods that surround them, teach them how to raise wolf pups, train them in Latin, Greek, and Potawatomi (an Algonquin language), and embed within them a deep appreciation for the value of brutality and the civilizations which are born from it. As a teenager, Hannah is brought back into the fold of the Syrl family by the aging matriarch of the clan (sister to the Wise One). When she opposes a scheme presented by the ruthless eldest son of the Syrl tribe, she is punished with a brutal violation of both her body and her trust. This act sets her on a path of epic vengeance—aided and abetted by our impassioned narrator (who is now both friend and lover); Annika, a sexually nihilistic cousin; Justin, a friend with a gift for violence; and a cast of other druggies, skaters, dealers, and hackers who help her take her vengeance to a global scale. The impact of the novel’s plot is somewhat hampered by its mode of telling. Our narrator is doubly removed from the action by both time (the events of the book have all happened in the past) and emotional distance (he loves Hannah but he is not Hannah, who is the undisputed main character of the novel). In spite of this, de la Durantaye’s (Beckett’s Art of Mismaking, 2016, etc.) background as a literary critic and scholar is translated here into a facility with the mutable power of myth that renders his prose at once a dream and a brutal awakening.

A novel of stark beauty and even starker consequence whose language makes up for the often opaque action of the plot.

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-944211-50-9
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: McSweeney’s
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2018


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