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The Trees: A Novel by Percival Everett
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The Trees: A Novel (edition 2021)

by Percival Everett (Author)

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2931978,358 (4.11)56
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)
Member:Schatje
Title:The Trees: A Novel
Authors:Percival Everett (Author)
Info:Graywolf Press (2021), 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:None

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The Trees by Percival Everett

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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
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 |
This book tells a story of two black detectives investigating a series of present-day murders of one or more white victims and a single black victim. The story begins in Money, Mississippi, where the first of such murders is discovered. As the story progresses, similar murders start occurring in many other parts of the US. The storyline references America’s tragic past of lynching.

I was initially hesitant to pick it up since I know it would be painfully difficult to read about a person being lynched. I should have known an author as skilled as Percival Everett would not write such a book. They are not part of the present-day storyline. Instead, it focuses on the legacy of bigotry that haunts us in current times.

The prose is straight-forward. The chapters are short. The dialogue is plentiful. Parts of it contain grim humor. Everett bases the narrative in a familiar genre – that of a detective story. He uses this familiar scenario to deliver biting social commentary, examining the concepts of justice and vengeance.

The names of lynching victims since 1913 are included. It is a long list. And the perpetrators of these crimes have literally gotten away with murder. The point is clearly made, and with no need to moralize. The villain of the piece is clearly racism in all its ugly manifestations. The ending is particularly thought provoking.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
I've discovered some interesting information about this book... some of the characters were real people, including Emmett Till, the 14 year old black boy from Chicago who was brutally beaten and killed in 1955 while visiting the real town of Money, Mississippi. He supposedly whistled at a white woman; apparently, whistling while black is/was a crime in that part of the country. Interesting recent article: Wikipedia article

Now that I've finished the book, I'm not quite sure what to make of it. It started off laughing-out-loud funny, unless you're a racist redneck, in which case you might wonder what's so funny.

The story starts in Money, Mississippi, and the characters should probably more accurately be called caricatures, as in extremely dumb, racist, poor, uneducated rednecks. The first few we meet are the descendants of the two men who admittedly killed Emmett Till in 1955. The mother of one was the actual woman who accused The poor boy of whistling at her. This might have been somewhat true, as he was always clowning around with his friends, so may have done this more to them than to her. But still, a black simply being friendly to a white woman was enough for severe punishment or lynching.

The old woman rode around in a Sam's Club cart, not bought there but on permanent loan. Her son was between jobs, but as his wife so astutely puts it, that would imply more than one job, which her husband has never had. He lost his one job, a truck driver for the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain when he fell asleep and drove his truck off the Bridge. It dangled there for hours until he was rescued and the truck then fell into the river, with about 40 cans of beer spilling from the cab, while he climbed out holding a can, all caught on CNN, Fox, and Youtube.

A relative, the 2nd man who was tried and not convicted of killing Emmett Till was named Junior Junior, because his father had been called Junior.

Then there are the made-up names, which the author must really enjoy making up. There's Deputy Sheriff Delroy Digby and Braden Brady, each dumber than the other. The Sheriff, Red Jetty, is probably the most intelligent of the citizens of Money, which isn't a very high bar. But he doesn't let his intelligence get in the way very often. There's an ME named Helvetica Quip, who had a husband named Ferris New who skipped town, and Helvetica was happy she didn't take his name, which would sound like a font, but one too boring for her. In Orange County, there are two detective partners, Hal Chi and Daryl Ho. At one point, they meet up with another cop from Riverside, whose name is Minh. They introduce themselves: "Ho." "Chi." "Minh."

The town's restaurant is called "The Dinah", not because there was ever anyone named Dinah but because the original owner couldn't spell. It's packed every day from 5:00 to 6:30 because everyone is trying to beat the dinner rush. After 6:30, the place is mostly empty except for those too late to beat the dinner rush.

Anyway, there's lots of humorous conversations, including between the black investigators from Mississippi Bureau of Investigation who get sent there to figure out what's going on, and a female FBI investigator Herberto Hind, often called Herbert (also black), and a part black waitress. Of course, they hit it off well with the locals who have never interacted with blacks in any way other than subservient positions and don't know whether to cooperate or shoot them.

Then the story starts sounding like a zombie apocalypse, with "dead Negroes" supposedly killing the good White citizens, very brutally, and often the same dead black man is found at more than one scene. It gets crazier and crazier, but mixed into the humor and craziness is the serious message about the many lynchings that have taken place over the years, usually unpunished.

And then it ends. ( )
  MartyFried | Oct 9, 2022 |
The Trees, Percival Everett, author; Bill Andrew Quinn, narrator
Beginning with bizarre murders occurring in a town called Money, Mississippi, and extending to its suburb called Spare Change, the author seemed to be highlighting the evils of racism and economic inequality, and seemed to be exposing the need to find a peaceful resolution for the problems caused by our past sins. His approach was tongue-in-cheek and sarcastic. The citizens highlighted in the novel seemed backward and uneducated, poor, and very unworthy of respect, which they are, unsurprisingly, not given in the narrative. The only honorable community seemed to be the one “of color”, the one that had quietly suffered, that was now quietly planning the murders that ironically “take on a life of their own”, and grow into a “revolution” of sorts, promoting a ”pandemic of death” throughout the country.
As the story became more and more violent, with very graphic details and descriptions of cold-blooded murders and mutilations, it also became less credible, less palatable, and more narrow in its scope for me. Instead of exposing injustice in an effort to seek justice, it seemed rather to justify racial violence against the white population, in order to extract vengeance. The community was not looking for a solution but for retribution. I felt the author’s message was becoming dangerous as dead white bodies were piling up without explanation. In addition, there was always a person of color holding the detached genitals of the dead white victims. This person was also dead, and was always present at the crime scene. It soon became frightfully obvious that the murders were being committed by “zombies”, the resurrected bodies of those who had been unfairly lynched. As the number of deaths began to reach epic proportions, and the atmosphere became more and more gleeful and accepting of the increasing violence, with these growing numbers of zombies claiming the lives of the relatives of those who were raised by racists and those who still harbored racist feelings and behaviors, it grew into a maelstrom of violence.
Ultimately, the white racists continued to be murdered, maimed and disfigured horribly, murdered by black men, Asian men, and others who had been unjustly lynched, with no end in sight. The numbers of the guilty were grossly exaggerated as they reached far into the future to punish those never directly involved, but who seemed guilty due to their pale skin color. As the scholar, Assistant Professor Damon Thruff, worked diligently typing out the names of the victims, spurred on by Mama Z, they continued to rise up and their numbers increased. Murder after murder was committed until the violence spread all over the country and copycats created panic. The death toll multiplied. There was no clarification forthcoming from those in charge as they could not stop the killing.
The author seemed intent on encouraging retribution and revenge, negating any positive feelings of hopefulness as a result of reading this book.
Incongruously, this murderous plan originated and was led by a woman who claimed to be 105 years-old. Perhaps that is what most identifies the absurdity of this novel. The need to hate and seek payback lived on and on. Those who want to continue to hate will love this book, those who want to resolve issues and move on, will not. Liberals who are angry with the former President who is not named, but who is roundly mocked and identified with a gross exaggeration of his behavior through the horrifying use of misleading and false statements supposedly made by him, will love this book, too. They have already promoted many lies, lies that they still continue to support, like those about Russian collusion which is alluded to in this book.
As the word “rise” is repeated over and over to emphasize the need for the dead to rise up and exact vengeance, one has to wonder about the author’s true purpose in writing this book, since in the narrative, he trashes a former President, murders a Governor of Florida, and a former Speaker of the House, without identifying anyone by name, except for the use of the name Melania, very disrespectfully. Perhaps his motives are not as pure as the driven snow. At first, I was actually impressed with the author’s ability to marry a story about racism with humor, as well as with the appropriate gravity it deserved. As I continued, however, I began to doubt my original assessment and was sorry I had recommended it to a friend. The author’s politics are revealed, with a fury, as the barrage of falsehoods are sarcastically presented, and as unnamed Republicans, who are definitely identifiable, are slandered. Everett even ridiculed G-d, along with all those that oppose the views he presented. He seemed to be instigating the rightful use of violence, as he promoted his message which turned into propaganda.
I found the overuse of sarcasm, curse words and the “N” word, uncomfortable. Anyone judged to have had any connection to a racist history, whether or not they were actually involved, seemed to be fair game. Anyone white had a target on their back because presumably they had put the target on the backs of the victims they lynched. This is a book that is perhaps, unintentionally or intentionally, only the author knows that for sure, promoting conflict, and possibly, even a Civil War. ( )
  thewanderingjew | Sep 10, 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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