cover image A Key to Treehouse Living

A Key to Treehouse Living

Elliot Reed. Tin House (Norton, dist.), $19.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-947793-04-0

Orphaned after his mother’s death and his father’s disappearance, William Tyce, the young protagonist of this inventive, illuminating debut set in the rural Midwest, imposes order on the sudden chaos of his life by way of an alphabetical glossary, creating his own definitions for things such as revelation, mullet, and typewriter (“You may be the greatest writer of all time but until you have a typewriter your work will not be taken seriously”). The short, poetic entries track William’s going to live with his gambler uncle, that same uncle’s imprisonment for arson, and William’s ensuing raft journey downriver to find a man, Jim “River” Swift, who may have once known his father. The book’s cumulative effect is much subtler than its allusions to Twain would suggest, with the central narrative mainly serving as a pretense for Reed to examine William’s unique psychology, vocabulary, and worldview. Sections on heavy topics like absence are no less a part of William’s character than those that offer more frivolous descriptions of the gypsy parachute house or icing of cake (“Most arousing part of a cake”). In this novel, Reed offers an impressionistic and profound exploration of self and consciousness. (Sept.)