Merrimon Book Reviews

Karen Anne Carpenter (1950-1983): American singer and drummer of the 1970s duo Carpenters.
She suffered from anorexia nervosa and died at the age of 32 from heart failure, later attributed to complications related to her illness.

Empire Mall, Sioux Falls

From Merrimon Book Reviews
Twisted Tree
Twisted Tree by Kent Meyers
by Kent Meyers

Intriguing use of narrative form
In the small town of Twisted Tree, South Dakota, life is not as idyllic as a picture postcard.  Every resident has secrets, short comings, foibles and failures and some have a twisted grasp on reality.  Hayley Jo Zimmerman was murdered, her absence marking the lives of the residents from the regrets for things left unsaid to the tone of tragedy and brokenness that shadows the lives of those left behind as they live out their lives.  One tragedy seems to give meaning to the next. 

In TWISTED TREE, Kent Meyers tells the story of Hayley Jo Zimmerman and indeed the town of Twisted Tree through separate narratives and separate voices from the killer's twisted tale to a supermarket clerk who remembers the early signs of Hayley Jo's anorexia, from the ex-priest who baptized her to strange relationship of a father and son and the impact of divorce.   Rather than pointing his vision to the life of Hayley Jo, Kent Meyers gives readers a different perspective and light upon his subject matter by shifting the focus to the residents of Twisted Tree.  Through the tales and voices of those around her, Kent Meyers builds layers of unexpected and less obvious meaning to the central event and place that unites the separate tales.  Like the description of the last photograph of Cassie, TWISTED TREE builds a template to build the picture rather than the picture itself, showing a truth that a linear tale of Hayley Jo's life and murder could not reveal.  In TWISTED TREE, Kent Meyers' narrative joins the vision of separate voices, each an anomaly in itself.  In elucidating the coincidences and separate isolated moments in separate lives, TWISTED TREE paints a portrait of a town, at first marking those random moments, and yet, as a whole the narrative redeems each moment from a sense of coincidence. 

Quite simply, TWISTED TREE is a novel I find difficult to reduce to a number.  The author's innovative sense of structure does not follow the set standards to which readers are accustomed.  The change in voices is not always clearly delineated at the beginning of each chapter but rather by the voices themselves, thus demanding attention to the narrative.  The initial voice of the killer is deeply disturbing.  His words cause a certain revulsion as he worships a skewed, deeply disturbing vision of holiness.  In fact, many of the characters are just downright unpleasant.  Most are not the kinds of people one would even imagine as the focus of the a story, and especially not in a first person narrative.  Certain details, such as decapitation and bison excrement, are either gruesome or just not the kinds of subjects polite society wants to hear even in the privacy of a reading experience.  In contrast to some of the more twisted, disturbing voices, others such as the ex-priest, bring compassion and sensitivity to small moments previously seen only in passing.  Quite simply, TWISTED TREE is not a rural small town story to read for relaxing after a long day or a thriller with a fast-paced chase to the truth.  Rather, it is a novel that demands focus, concentration, and thought to derive pleasure from the sheer brilliance of the author's artistic use of narrative.  Readers who appreciate literary experimentation and daring, cutting edge narrative form will find a treasure trove to explore in TWISTED TREE.  In characterization, Kent Meyers' choice of unlikely narrative voices paints a vision of a small town that breaks the stereotypes of small town America.  TWISTED TREE is not the book I would choose for a reading escape or to relax, and yet, it is a book I would love to study and reread based on the author's inventiveness and narrative artistry.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 24, 2009)

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
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