In Hawes’ (The Sitter, 2012) horror tale, a series of murders of men by women in a small California town seems to be tied somehow to a suddenly flourishing fig tree.
Cass Murphy is out on the street when his girlfriend, Lauren, kicks him out for quitting his job and bringing home a rescue pit bull, which she thinks is a vicious breed. So he accepts his uncle Frank’s invitation to the nearby Diablo County ranch where Cass once stayed as a boy. Frank is astonished by the fact that a once-barren fig tree has been producing huge amounts of fruit following an earthquake. But he’s unnerved by what he mysteriously calls “something dark,” and, without explanation, he gives his nephew a gun and insists that he always carry it. The small town is later shocked when a local woman, whom Cass has known for years, hacks her husband to death with a meat cleaver. As other women and girls kill spouses and dads, Cass attributes their erratic behavior to what he simply calls “The Tree,” because most of the women had eaten its figs. The Tree is unusual in other ways, as well, as it has strangely moist bark and tentaclelike roots—and it’s only growing bigger. Hawes’ sometimes-violent novel is filled with creepy moments. The murders are disturbing, even when they aren’t shown, but the best scenes involve characters confronting The Tree directly; for example, Cass equates the glowing bark, which later sports weird swellings, with skin. Some readers may see the story as a twisted play on the biblical tale of original sin, but Hawes focuses on horror-genre thrills and leaves her story’s refreshingly understated themes open for interpretation. An unfortunate drawback is the lack of sympathy shown for the victims, who are either relative unknowns or seemingly deserving of their fates. Readers will still root for Cass, though, particularly when he saves his dog from danger.
A consistently eerie tale all the way to its smashing end.