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The Trees

by Percival Everett

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3812159,150 (4.05)61
An uncanny literary thriller addressing the painful legacy of lynching in the US, by the author of Telephone Percival Everett's The Trees is a page-turner that opens with a series of brutal murders in the rural town of Money, Mississippi. When a pair of detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation arrive, they meet expected resistance from the local sheriff, his deputy, the coroner, and a string of racist White townsfolk. The murders present a puzzle, for at each crime scene there is a second dead body: that of a man who resembles Emmett Till. The detectives suspect that these are killings of retribution, but soon discover that eerily similar murders are taking place all over the country. Something truly strange is afoot. As the bodies pile up, the MBI detectives seek answers from a local root doctor who has been documenting every lynching in the country for years, uncovering a history that refuses to be buried. In this bold, provocative book, Everett takes direct aim at racism and police violence, and does so in a fast-paced style that ensures the reader can't look away. The Trees is an enormously powerful novel of lasting importance from an author with his finger on America's pulse.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
NA ( )
  eshaundo | Jan 7, 2023 |
That was different. ( )
  dmurfgal | Dec 9, 2022 |
This book, shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize, is very hard to categorise. It begins as a kind of police procedural, though one that is at times laugh-out-loud funny. It has elements of horror. And hints throughout about the supernatural. Above all, it is book about racism in America, and specifically about the country’s long, shameful history of lynchings. Does all that work in a single book? The short answer is — sometimes. There are moments (without giving much away, these are sometimes lists of names) which are extraordinarily powerful. But I’m not sure that the whole book works together, and I was not satisfied with the ending (though the author clearly had no intention of satisfying me). Recommended. ( )
  ericlee | Dec 6, 2022 |
I came across this title on the shortlist for the 2022 Booker Prize for Fiction. It’s a powerful genre-mixing book.

Money, Mississippi, is the town where in 1955 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched after being accused of making suggestive remarks to a white woman named Carolyn Bryant. In 2018, Wheat Bryant is found mutilated and murdered with the corpse of a black man found next to him. The corpse disappears, only to reappear twice next to two other murder victims. Black officers from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the FBI arrive to investigate.

The novel is a hybrid genre; it is social commentary that has elements of a police procedural, comedy, and horror. The book examines the legacy of lynching and police shootings, a legacy which Americans tend to ignore. The detectives who come to assist in the investigation add much of the comedy with their banter. And the names given many of the white characters are hilarious: Cad Fondle, Pinch Wheyface, Hickory Spit, and Chalk Pellucid. Considering the subject matter, the humour might seem inappropriate, but it both provides some brief relief and emphasizes the seriousness of the issue. Off-hand comments like blacks joining the police force “’So Whitey wouldn’t be the only one in the room with a gun’” reveal so much. An element of the horror genre is added with the apparent rising of the lynched dead to exact revenge.

The title is a reference to the trees from which lynching victims were hanged, but it also suggests family trees. The sins of the fathers have been passed down to their descendants. Not much has changed. The whites are unabashed rednecks, wearing red caps and spewing racial epithets. And racists are found everywhere, even in positions of power. For instance, President Trump delivers a speech in one chapter, a speech which leaves no doubt of his racism.

Whites are stereotyped as incredibly stupid bigots. This portrayal is intentional: it mirrors the one-dimensional way blacks were perceived. The author gives the whites no sympathy; again, this reflects how blacks received none.

It is not difficult to determine the author’s intention: “’Everybody talks about genocides around the world, but when the killing is slow and spread over a hundred years, no one notices. Where there are no mass graves, no one notices. American outage is always for show. It has a shelf life.’” America is as racist as it has ever been. There have been no consequences for the killings of blacks. Such killings are seen merely as an academic matter: “’One hopes that dispassionate, scientific work will generate proper outrage.’” Of course, it doesn’t. The book imagines what would happen if there were a reckoning for such atrocities.

Chapter 64 is chilling. It consists of a list of names of people who were lynched; the list goes on for pages: “’When I write the names they become real, not just statistics. When I write the names they become real again. It’s almost like they get a few more seconds here.’” Chapter 102 is revealing; it lists places where lynchings/shootings have occurred. Though Mississippi is repeated most often, 20 other states are also mentioned.

This book is shocking and devastating and should generate outrage at racism both past and present.

Note: Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Nov 24, 2022 |
Well, I fell for the hype again, but didn't get short-changed this time! The first half of the story is hilarious, full of dark (like light-absorbing black paint DARK) humour and droll southern wit. In Money, Mississippi, two redneck family men are brutally murdered in their homes, found alongside the corpse of a Black man who has been beaten to death. The body of the Black victim disappears from one crime scene and reappears at the next, hopelessly confusing the sheriff and his deputies. The mother of one victim, Carolyn Bryant, recognises the mysterious man and terrorised into a heart attack by her own guilt.

Now, I must confess that although I knew about the lynching of fourteen year old Emmett Till in 1955, I did not recognise the family names of the men who killed him nor the woman whose accusations led to the horrendous murder of the young boy (Carolyn Bryant). When the penny dropped, the book took on a far more sinister tone and a deeper level of historical relevance - but I could still laugh at local yokels living in the past (as the author has said, 'Humour is a fantastic tool because you can use it to get people to relax and then do anything you want to them'). Two (Black) agents from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation - which is actually a thing? - are sent to Money to help the sheriff's department with the murders and missing bodies, and somehow manage to maintain both sarcasm and cynicism in a losing battle against useless deputies, racist locals and zombie killers.

I preferred the supernatural take on the murders at the start of the story to the second half of the book - at one point, even the agents are convinced that Emmett Till has returned from the grave (twice) to exact his revenge. The mash-up of irreverent humour and violent deaths fit the Southern gothic tradition perfectly and I almost didn't want to know what was really going on (and certainly didn't need a cameo appearance from Trump!) But I could also appreciate the necessary reminder of America's record of racism and violence - and the (albeit very campy) warning for the future:

When I write the names they become real, not just statistics. When I write the names they become real again. It’s almost like they get a few more seconds here. Do you know what I mean? I would never be able to make up this many names. The names have to be real. They have to be real. Don’t they? ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Nov 9, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
The setting is a small town called Money, Mississippi, “named in that persistent Southern tradition of irony”. We meet a dysfunctional white family unit with its morose matriarch Granny C, her son Wheat Bryant, and her nephew, Junior Junior. This time it’s the white folks’ turn to be rendered in grotesque caricature, and the actions of this feckless clan are played as broad knockabout, almost like a reverse minstrel show.
added by bergs47 | editThe Guardian, Jake Arnott (Aug 31, 2022)
 
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The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike at him as hard as you can and as often as you can, and keep moving on.     --U. S. Grant
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For Steve, Katie, Marisa, Caroline, Anitra, and Fiona
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Money, Mississippi, looks exactly like it sounds.
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An uncanny literary thriller addressing the painful legacy of lynching in the US, by the author of Telephone Percival Everett's The Trees is a page-turner that opens with a series of brutal murders in the rural town of Money, Mississippi. When a pair of detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation arrive, they meet expected resistance from the local sheriff, his deputy, the coroner, and a string of racist White townsfolk. The murders present a puzzle, for at each crime scene there is a second dead body: that of a man who resembles Emmett Till. The detectives suspect that these are killings of retribution, but soon discover that eerily similar murders are taking place all over the country. Something truly strange is afoot. As the bodies pile up, the MBI detectives seek answers from a local root doctor who has been documenting every lynching in the country for years, uncovering a history that refuses to be buried. In this bold, provocative book, Everett takes direct aim at racism and police violence, and does so in a fast-paced style that ensures the reader can't look away. The Trees is an enormously powerful novel of lasting importance from an author with his finger on America's pulse.

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Percival Everett’s The Trees is a page-turner that opens with a series of brutal murders in the rural town of Money, Mississippi. When a pair of detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation arrive, they meet expected resistance from the local sheriff, his deputy, the coroner, and a string of racist White townsfolk. The murders present a puzzle, for at each crime scene there is a second dead body: that of a man who resembles Emmett Till.

The detectives suspect that these are killings of retribution, but soon discover that eerily similar murders are taking place all over the country. Something truly strange is afoot. As the bodies pile up, the MBI detectives seek answers from a local root doctor who has been documenting every lynching in the country for years, uncovering a history that refuses to be buried.
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