Monday, January 25, 2016

Four Short Stories Featuring Trees

Title: Joshua Tree
Author: Emma Bull
Where I Read It: The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest

"My point is, sometimes truly crappy experiences have a crowbar effect on the rest of your life. Everything shakes loose. Then you can let it go back to the way it was, or you can step in and make something happen, something that might be permanent."
Tabetha Sikorsky is a teenager growing up in a desert town attached to a military base. It's a dead town, full of dead-end jobs and people who feel their lives have gone nowhere. Tabetha knows she might become one of them. Then a new girl shows up, and some interesting possibilities open up for Tabetha.

One night she's lost in the desert and in danger of dying. However, the night also becomes an opportunity for her to rediscover the weight and meaning of her life.
"But sometimes I can still have these moments of total happiness. And I feel as if every time I pretend to be happy, I'm scaring that real happiness off."
I like how she finds new vitality, taps into the wellspring of life, in a desert. And specifically, among the spiny, twisty, miraculous Joshua Trees.

Title: The Old Forest
Author: Peter Taylor
Where I Read It: American Short Stories Since 1945

"The Old Forest" reads in some ways like a work of anthropology, as the author explores early-to-mid-20th century life in Tennessee, particularly among the upper classes. The main character is a young man from an aristocratic family. He isn't a malicious person, but he's immature and oblivious. Given that his life has run smoothly so far, he hasn't given work, school or romance a great deal of thought or considered much of the world around him.

Then he gets into a minor car crash while on a date with a girl who isn't from his social sphere; she's well-educated but in a lower class, not a person he's supposed to marry. After the crash, she flees into a nearby forest, and in the next few days he's forced to think more than he ever has about people whose lives aren't like his. Peter Taylor delicately analyzes class, sex, race, as his main character no longer finds it easy to coast along and live off assumptions. Although the young man stays rather passive, ordered around by other people, he at least starts to pay attention.

The forest at the heart of the story represents danger and refuge, possible death and renewal. It was always more permissible for men to disappear into it and go somewhere else, starting life over and leaving others behind. But the story considers its purposes for a woman freeing herself from entanglements and social demands.

Title: Remnants
Author: Kathe Koja
Where I Read It: The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest

The main character in "Remnants" has been horribly traumatized by childhood abuse and lives alienated from other people in the home where she grew up. To well-meaning, ineffectual outsiders, her actions are senseless, but to her they're all about feeling at peace in a place that once held terror and pain. She makes her own forest out of garbage - fluttering paper bags as leaves, and washed bottles as fence posts. This is how she's trying to heal, and turning trash into beauty. The author tells the story from the woman's point of view, and this is an effective choice.

Title: The Stump-Grubber
Author: Torgny Lindgren
Translator: Mary Sandbach
Where I Read It: The Art of the Story

At his wife Gerda's insistence, Jacob has cut down an enormous pine that had been growing on their farmland. Only its stump and roots remain. How deep the roots go isn't clear. He uses a special instrument, a stump-grubber, to slowly tear it from the earth. The stump-grubber is dangerous; it requires steady hands and focus, endurance and strength, or else it can tear loose and strike you down.

Jacob contends with the remains of an entity far older than him, a tree stump that seems impossibly huge, with roots that snake down to the center of the earth. It resists him, as all the while his wife looks on.

The struggle with the stump takes on epic proportions. It's a story of love and its pain and rewards, and mysteries that defy human mastery. Love and death are knotted together throughout "The Stump-Grubber," death waiting to strike in the midst of fierce, possessive love.


Brian Joseph said...

I think that I may have mentioned that I love these themed posts.

Trees are so symbolic and meaningful. One can volumes about their impact on art and literature.

HKatz said...

Thanks, I love doing these themed posts too :)

Yes, it's one of my interests now - thinking about trees and forests in literature. And it's part of something I'm working on too.