cover image The Boys in the Trees

The Boys in the Trees

Mary Swan, . . Holt, $14 (207pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-8670-6

Swan’s gloomy, uneven first novel (after The Deep and Other Stories ) explores how late 19th-century smalltown Canada deals with a horrific crime. William Heath leaves his native England with his young family, eventually landing in Emden, Canada. But just as the family is feeling settled, William is accused in the local paper of embezzlement, and as the scandal peaks, William kills his family. He’s sentenced to death, and the novel is taken over by a cross-section of locals—a teacher, a doctor, a boy curious about the facts of the crime—who share their thoughts about the Heaths. These sketches demonstrate the author’s writerly talents, but with each section, the plot drifts further afield to little effect. Though there are plenty of beautiful passages, the novel’s structure undermines any emotional connection made early on. (Feb.)