Climbing the God Tree: A Novel in Stories

Jaimee Wriston Colbert, Author
Jaimee Wriston Colbert, Author Helicon Nine Editions $12.95 (0p) ISBN 978-1-884235-25-2
Reviewed on: 11/30/1998
Release date: 12/01/1998
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The repercussions of a murder, a fatal accident and a stillbirth sound through the 24 interlocking stories of this haunted novel. Rendering an intimate portrait of small-town Rock Harbor, Maine, and a handful of its inhabitants, Colbert (Sex, Salvation, and the Automobile) approaches the three central tragedies--each of which takes place before the novel's opening--by examining the lives of the perpetrators and the bereaved. Eli Hyde has lost her baby due to complications caused by the automobile accident that killed her teenage sister Melissa some years earlier. Made miserable by her adulterous husband, Dallas, Eli begins teaching art therapy at a maximum security prison, where she meets lifer Morton Salvitore, incarcerated for the seemingly motiveless and extremely violent murder of Jenna Pierce. His personality strangely seduces Eli, even as Morton begins an ominous courtship. The novel spirals outward from Morton, Dallas and Eli to include Eli's older sister Henri--indirectly responsible for and still tortured by Melissa's death--and her friend, the awkward, lonely Stella Dubois. Colbert's characters practice a kind of gritty, close-mouthed survivalism that struggles to coexist with their eagerness to feel ""something you might even call hope."" While her narrative choices can be clumsy (a number of the protagonists have improbably moved from Hawaii to coastal Maine), Colbert has a knack for creating vivid characters and handles well the novel's recurring themes of loss and retribution. (Dec.)
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