Tree Surgery for Beginners

Patrick Gale, Author Faber & Faber $25 (264p) ISBN 978-0-571-19958-7
A curious transatlantic pastoral about a shadowy woodcutter accused of murdering his wife, English author Gale's eighth novel (after Cat Sanctuary) repays careful reading with its themes of organic growth, dismemberment and integration, culminating in a healing denouement. Lawrence Frost, raised in the British cathedral town of Barrowcester by his single mother, grows up as a solitary child who prefers the company of trees to people. He finally finds happiness with landscape gardener Bonnie and their baby daughter, Lucy. But on evidence of her affair with American architect Craig McBride, he abuses Bonnie so severely that one evening she disappears. Unknown to Lawrence, she has fled to America. When a gruesomely battered body--presumably Bonnie's--is found in the nearby woods, Lawrence is accused of murder. Although he is soon exonerated (the identity of the murdered woman will provide a shock later in the story), Lawrence has a breakdown and knows he must move on to stay sane. Aboard a ship to the Caribbean and in his later wanderings on the way to Northern California, he meets a mysterious older woman who alternates identities: she is variously torch singer Lala and heiress Serena Merle. Despite the jolt of the initial murder descriptions, Gale's story develops with such subtlety that the workings of Lawrence's healing process must be taken on faith. Gale fashions a patient, worthy transformation as Lawrence develops from a boy who does not understand his whole self (especially the violent extremes) to a man whose work as a tree surgeon is a metaphor for the growth of his soul and his family. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1999
Release date: 02/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
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