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The Lion Trees: Part One: Unraveling by Owen…

The Lion Trees: Part One: Unraveling

by Owen Thomas

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The Lion Trees by Owen Thomas

Available from OTF Literary

This novel has garnered an eye-popping number of awards. I appreciate knowing up front when a book has won at least one award or been shortlisted for an honor but that generally doesn’t impact my impression. It might, in fact, lead me to anticipate a better-than-average reading experience, which sets me up for disappointment if the work doesn’t meet my personal standards.

The Lion Trees did not disappoint. The awards this novel (or diptych of two novels, depending on which production version you’re reading) has pulled in are all well deserved. The story follows a family of four: the aging parents and two adult children, as they muddle through some astonishing changes in their lives. They are, like most of us, ensnared by the tendrils of past hurts, wounds, harms and mistakes. They do their best to help themselves without hurting others too much.

Or at least, most of them try not to harm others. The father is the big exception here. The depth and breadth of his arrogance and selfishness keeps him from seeing even the smallest part of how arrogant and selfish he truly is. Even when his wife leaves him to live in a lesbian commune, he still doesn’t really see how entrenched he is in his own horrible ways.

But of course glimmers arise. He eventually, through a lot of suffering that is at times poignant and at other times funny, manages to start down the path of change. The remainder of his family—a son, a daughter and that AWOL wife—meanwhile manage to implement rather large changes. Not without their own suffering of course but they come out stronger, better people. As one might hope.

This is a long novel, clocking in at some 550,000 words. It is split into two parts mostly I assume for print purposes, because the physical book cannot easily be created or distributed as a single unit. This does lead to some issues with the transition from the first to the second “book.” At the end of the first part, I turned the page and knew that it doesn’t work well as two separate books. I was fortunate to have read it in electronic version and therefore did not feel the pain of having to go hunt down and then wait for delivery of a second print book.

That being said, the end of the first part is only one clear example of this author’s abilities. I literally read the last few paragraphs at the end of part one with a growing emotional response to the characters’ situations and, somewhere in the back of my head where the critical judge sits always hovering above the reading process, thinking that if the author ended it on that page, he was a genius. I turned the page and saw yes, there’s an end, and so yes, this author is significantly talented.

There are a few flaws in this work. Although the book is presented conceptually as if all the family members are equally important, two of the characters fall into a secondary role. These are the daughter and the wife. The wife receives noticeably less attention than the other three, as well. Taken together, it made me wonder if the author isn’t as familiar with female characters and had some trouble drawing them as fully as men in this narrative.

In some ways, even the men the daughter interacts with have equal roles as her, which strengthens the idea that the author has some trouble drawing women on their own (i.e., without the foil or support of male characters). The wife’s scenes in the all-female commune also don’t resonate with strongly drawn secondary characters in her plotline, so that seems to also point to the need for the author to work a bit on female presentation.

The story also drags a bit in book two. I strongly felt the second part could have been trimmed as much as 150 pages and still held the same emotional resonance and achieved the same plot elements. This might also have solved some of the two-book issue for the print version.

These two issues don’t detract much at all from the superb experience and exceptional writing readers will find in The Lion Trees. Pick up these books, and you’ll surely want more from this author.

I received a copy of this through a Goodreads giveaway.

5 stars! ( )
  Laine-Cunningham | Oct 4, 2016 |
An impressive piece of the work, the Lion Trees: Part One provides a close exploration of a quiet, seemingly normal family as their relationships with each other and the world around them rapidly unravel and radically change. A monster of a book to get through, its well worth the time as Thomas is an immensely talented author with clear, articulate prose and meticulously detailed descriptions. The inner workings of the characters, their motivations, desires, thoughts, and emotions are eloquently extracted, pulled apart, and examined in a way that draws the reader further in the novel. I expect wonderful things from this author.

My only criticism is that occasionally some of the vocabulary felt forced rather than flowing naturally, but this did not detract from the quality of the writing. ( )
  ekricci | Oct 5, 2015 |
This epic tome of a novel tells the story of the Johns family--a seemingly mundane Ohioan upper-middle class unit--but one that is teeming with dysfunction and broken relationships. Part of what I loved about this work was how each chapter not only switched to a different character's perspective, but also changed narrative tense. I loved the characters, with all of their flaws and the writing--what can I say but that Owen Thomas is a master of words. It's a long read, but so worth the effort! ( )
  LoveOfMuffins4820 | Oct 2, 2015 |
THE LION TREES" characters are so vividly imprinted that, as soon as I finished Volume I, I started it over because I missed being with them. If you like to underline the great parts of books or to fold corners over, order this in paperback.

From its first lines, Owen Thomas leads readers on a challenging, mysterious and laugh out loud search for some kinds of Truth. Right away, we care - from The Mother of Katrina on into David's strangely compelling rat modes and missteps. Many of us have made a lot of the same mistakes in our early years, but, geez, David makes nearly ALL of them. How can he SOUND so brilliant and ACT so stupid?!?

And yet, his classroom dynamic is inspiring for teacher, old and new.

The rhythm of the pages rarely falters. I've enjoyed reading The Prologue (usually so forgettable) over and over. There's a magic here in the power of the dark light of reality subtly flowing along with jarring discords. Resonance.

Regarding other characters: on moving into Volume 2, my deepest hope is that Angus Mann does not turn out to be a total jerk or die. Most others have shown a darker side, but so far he's my favorite. (Even though he persists in a 'you gotta get IT just the way I'm thinking IT or you just ain't right' attitude. Glad he wasn't The Teacher.) Maybe V.2 will close with him hammering a selfie stick into both plough shares and spears? What does he look like?

Hollis and I went back and forth, then have parted ways until he reconciles his unorthodox ultraconservatism plus Buddhism with his treatment of his tree. The Buddha may be wondering how he veered so far off The Eightfold Path.

It's not all perfect: enough with The Dead Fish, Seinfeld (urp), and obsession with the color yellow...Lt. Miller should count his blessings - at least he won't be stranded with Susan and Jar Jar Binks. On second reading, much of SUSAN got skipped. She was tough to endure the first time around.

Readers may well wish for a Volume III where Sadie journeys to Africa and actually talks with the people, servants and everyone else, and where there are keener observations of buildings, landmarks, scenery, ambience, markets, and insights taken in from the time she sees it all from her plane to when she revisits The Lion Trees. Unlike Tilly and Company, she might really listen to the music and make lifelong friends.

It would be great to see a blockbuster Blackboard Jungle release for next year's School Year. ( )
1 vote m.belljackson | Sep 20, 2015 |
I received this book in exchange for an honest review. This is a story about a dysfunctional family. The characters are very well developed and you can even relate to them in someone you know. That's what makes you continue to read. But the story gets very long and just long. I did complete the two part book but found myself being lulled to sleep over the constant flow of words. I believe this is a good story and could and would have been much more enjoyable in a shorter version. ( )
  thicks | Aug 20, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0692235906, Paperback)

What happens when you get the life you aim for and it hurts like hell?

The Johns family is unraveling. Hollis, a retired Ohio banker, isolates himself in esoteric hobbies and a dangerous flirtation with a colleague’s daughter. Susan, his wife of forty years, risks everything for a second chance at who she might have become. David, their eldest, thrashes to stay afloat as his teaching career capsizes in a storm of accusations involving a missing student and the legacy of Christopher Columbus. And young Tilly, the black sheep, having traded literary promise for an improbable career as a Hollywood starlet, struggles to define herself amid salacious scandal, the demands of a powerful director, and the judgments of an uncompromising writer.

By turns comical and poignant, the Johns family is tumbling toward the discovery that sometimes you have to let go of your identity to find out who you are.

[A] cerebral page turner…a powerful and promising debut.—Kirkus Reviews

[Five Stars]…[A] powerful, gripping and realistic story…The Lion Trees does what so very few great novels can: it will take a lot out of you, but leave you with much more than you had when you began Pacific Book Reviews, a five star review.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:17 -0400)

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