The XX Factor

Book of the Week: “Twisted Tree”

A review from DoubleX guest writer Adrienne M. Davich:

Kent Meyers’ Twisted Tree must be one of the most beautiful and unsettling novels of 2009. Meyers’ novel, set in and around the small town of Twisted Tree, S.D., opens with a horrifying drive: I-90 killer Alexander Stoughton has Hayley Jo Zimmerman in his passenger seat. He has chosen Hayley Jo, like girls before her, because of her anorexia, and now he’s racing down the highway making conversation and delighting at the drive before the murder. His “Anas” are all the same; they all have blind faith when they step into his car, but then, “It’s never joy and welcome when the Anas realize who he is, never happiness that here at last is their friend.” Anyone could mistakenly trust the wrong person, but anorexics, to Stoughton’s mind, are predictably gullible, the most easily ensnared.

The opening chapter of Twisted Tree is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God . Alexander Stoughton, like McCarthy’s rapist and child-killer Lester Ballard, lives outside the moral universe. But whereas Ballard is spontaneous and physically and mentally ravaged, Stoughton is a meticulous planner. He appears unthreatening until he has his Ana trapped in his big blue Continental. This is a horrifying premise for a novel, but it moves beyond the voyeuristic in chapters that take us into the lives of townspeople who are affected by the loss of Hayley Jo. Ultimately, Meyers offers not a nihilistic vision, but a window into human endurance, faith, and the longing to be unburdened of a traumatic past.

Among the more striking characters in Twisted Tree is Hayley Jo’s father, Stanley Zimmerman, who turns his attention to his herd of buffalo and his land, in part to stave off the guilt he feels at having failed to protect his daughter. Stanley, quite heroically, endures his loss by becoming more vigilant. The process of finding peace is disordered and painful, but the hurt, as Meyers depicts it, is not just about loss or shame or loneliness. It’s about finding out that what you’ve believed isn’t so, and reaching for cathartic solutions, ways to explain violence and salve the pain, when none exist. It’s about seeking solace after trauma-and very often, self-forgiveness and love.