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Reviewed by:
  • Twisted Tree
  • Robert Headley
Twisted Tree. By Kent Meyers. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. 289 pages, $24.00.

Twisted Tree, the latest novel from South Dakota writer Kent Meyers, is a rich, complex work that examines the impact of senseless, twisted violence on the family and friends of a murder victim. That victim, Hayley Jo Zimmerman, makes only a fleeting appearance in the novel's opening section; the balance of the book explores the lives of people who touched or were touched by, in ways big and small, the short life of young, troubled, doomed Hayley Jo.

Comprised of sixteen chapters that vary in style from interior monologues to stream-of-consciousness vignettes to third-person narratives, Twisted Tree almost demands to be compared to such works as Winesburg, Ohio (1919), Dubliners (1914), As I Lay Dying (1930), and, for its brief portrayal of a psychotic serial killer, William Trevor's Felicia's Journey (1994). Like Anderson and Joyce, Meyers captures the essence of an entire community—in this case, the hardscrabble small town of Twisted Tree, South Dakota, by the Black Hills. Like so many small towns in the American West, Twisted Tree is a town barely holding on, a windswept, barren place bearing the legacy of Wounded Knee, failed ranches, forgotten graveyards, abandoned families, lost dreams, failed love, unspoken words.

Meyers's characters, like Anderson's small town Ohioans and Joyce's big city Dubliners, are often spiritually hobbled by their self-doubts, insecurities, and pasts. They are store clerks, drunkards, teachers, housewives, ranchers, waitresses, poachers, priests, lovers, adulterers. Most share a collective guilt over Hayley Jo's death, laboring over things they could have done, words they might have said, signs they must have missed.

Just as few things in life are utterly dark and ominous, Twisted Tree is a novel with high, bright moments of love, acceptance, and even humor and surprising irony. For example, Meyers includes a wonderful vignette [End Page 332] in which the serial killer's car ends up in the middle of an ice-covered lake, with several Native Americans betting on the precise moment when the car will break through. In another chapter, his description of a woman's horrific encounter with a rattlesnake is stunning, as is his portrayal of the utter anguish and grief that beset the parents of the murdered young woman. One of his characters, a woman who was sexually abused by her stepfather, finds herself caring for the old man after he's had a stroke, and she exacts revenge in small, irritating, devilling ways. Meyers may peer into the chasms of human despair and hopelessness in this book, but he sometimes seems to have a wicked grin as he does.

Without describing one aspect of the murder of Hayley Jo Zimmerman, Meyers nonetheless forces readers to confront the horror of the act. Twisted Tree is a beautiful, powerfully written book.

Robert Headley
Southern State Community College, Wilmington, Ohio


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 332-333
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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