A Tree Born Crooked, Steph Post Pandamoon Publishing, 2014 Reviewer: Julie Demoff-Larson
Reading Steph Post’s debut novel, A Tree Born Crooked (Pandamoon) is like riding in a beat-up old truck through the backwoods of small-town U.S.A., holding on as every twist and turn comes. The story, set in the Florida Panhandle, is set up as a stirring mystery that is entrenched with authentic relationships old and new. As a first novel, Post succeeds in her storytelling and building believable characters, and extra props to Pandamoon for publishing quality work.
A Tree Born Crooked gets off to a slow start as Post develops the plot, but once the story gets to the conflict it is non-stop action. However, Post really shines when writing backstory–even in those slower areas. James, the main protagonist’s past is narrated beautifully,
“The year progressed, the boys grew older, and by the next summer things had changed. The pond had been drained during the winter and Skinny had received an Atari for his birthday right before school let out. James had a crush on a girl who liked to hang out with her friends in front of the Dairy Queen. The boys never went back to the house, and it faded away as all singular and remarkable childhood events do.”
Post is truly adept in creating a sense of place, especially in the homes of her characters where they are most comfortable– a space where they show their strengths and flaws. This is clear in a scene where Marlena–strong, smart female protagonist (who doesn’t love that?)–is taking care to see that James’ dimwitted brother stays calm:
“She had microwaved Rabbit a cup of instant noodles, made up the couch in the living room for him, and did her best to make him comfortable. James was slightly surprised by the ease which she could switch from a pistol to a pillow.”
I feel that my time spent with these characters was more invested in the women and sub-characters in the book than with James. James seems to be more one-dimensional, almost monotone up until the end. Post’s other characters are vivid and dynamic, yet familiar. I am pretty sure that I know or have met these people before, and that seems to give me a personal connection to the story. I was invested! At the introduction of Birdie Mae, James and Rabbit’s mother, captures where the dysfunction in their lives hail. Post is quite proficient in building the character’s dynamic through dialogue and this is also recognized in the development of Rabbit, Marlena, and an annoying old girlfriend in one of the bar scenes.
All in all, A Tree Born Crooked is wildly imaginative and entertaining. If you are looking for layers and a deep philosophical discussion, you might want to pass (try reading a dissertation instead). However, reading about the underbelly of small-town existence is always a win for me and the nostalgic air draws in the reader. Give it a shot! I look forward to reading Steph Post’s next effort.