Monday, April 21, 2008
monday book review: the boys in the trees, by mary swan
Set in 19th Century rural Canada, Mary Swan's debut novel tells the haunting story of a an inexplicable murder in a small town and its ripple effects on everyone it touches.  Reading more like a collection of short stories than a novel, Swan weaves together a series of character sketches to reveal the tragic story of a poor immigrant who - suddenly and for no clear reason -murders his wife and two daughters.  Rather than telling the story directly, Swan adopts a variety of points of view: the slain wife, the murdered daughters - one sickly and troubled, the other sweet and kind - a teacher who feels a certain level of responsibility for the events, a small boy who befriended one of the murdered little girls and more, although noticeably absent is the voice of the man whose crime sets the wheels in motion.  Each story provides a piece of a puzzle that is never exactly solved, but - at least for me - that seemed to be the point.  Who really knows why horrific events happen?  The point isn't really the why so much as  the effect violence has on both those it is inflicted upon and the ones forced to bear witness.

For some reason I've always been a bit of a sucker for crime dramas, and when they are written in an elegant, artful and psychological manner I'm over the moon.  However, I  must admit that I didn't choose The Boys in the Trees based on its subject, but rather for a much more superficial reason.  I heard absolutely nothing about it, the blurb on the back didn't sound particularly interesting and I had never heard of author Mary Swan, but the cover was so pretty that I simply couldn't resist it.  It wasn't perfect - a tad uneven and confusing in spots - but the overall effect made these issues relatively easy for me to overlook.  Fortunately, the image on the cover perfectly captured the story inside: nothing particularly groundbreaking, however elegant and poetically beautiful nevertheless.  I love it when that happens.

Mary Swan
2008, 224 pages

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