The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli(5 out of 5)
Well, this was quite the read. I’ve had the ARC since June or July. I just get to it now. That’s what happens when you donate a bunch of books to the veteran’s hospital and still more to go….anyway, wow. I am glad I waited. What a head trip of a novel.
It disturbed me profoundly on many levels. There’s the question of maternal love. There’s the question of how long unresolved grief can lead to one’s misperception of motive. There’s the question of how your children can allow those detrimental to your well-being into your life. So many questions. By the end, most are answered. Those that aren’t- well, those are the ones that keep leading you back to questioning them. A full day after I finished it, I am still shaking my head at parts.
Claire marries Forster, and resigns herself to a life working alongside her husband and his band of farm workers, keeping their sprawling farm a productive success. Then something completely awful happens. During a party at the ranch, Claire and her daughter confront intruders on the property, and both are injured. Worse yet, Claire tells them to take her money. Worse than that, her son Joshua stumbles onto this confrontation, and they rough up Claire and her daughter and kidnap Joshua. A ransom note is delivered and paid, and then, the criminals are caught and confess they murdered Joshua. They find the body, on the farm, under a lemon tree. A good third of the book follows how this affects Claire, her daughters, and her marriage to Forster. Her relationship with her daughters and her grief never quite recover, destroying her marriage to Forster, who leaves the farm and remarries. Claire is all alone on the farm with her grief and memories. She begins the slow steady road to recovery of her shattered soul.
As Claire finally comes to some sort of uneasy peace, she finds out she has breast cancer. Her girls come home to help her, and when they realize there’s only so much they can do, must return to their different lives. Gwen is the workaholic oldest who’s quite stern and a commandering presence in all things concerning her mother and the ranch. She’s determined to convince Claire that the best thing is to sell and move on with her life. Lucy is the rehab survivor still trying to beat her addictions and overwhelming guilt and sadness over Joshua’s death and what she perceives to be her role in it. She’s more laid back and a free spirit who believes Claire should do whatever she wants and let consequences be damned. You see the conflict growing. The solution- both sisters agree- is to get a live-in helper for their mother. Minna appears out of nowhere(literally) and all are seduced by her charm. Claire immediately finds her to be a child lost without a mother figure. Basically, her maternal needs transfers to Minna.
Minna, however, isn’t wrapped too tight. You see how she singlehandedly takes over Claire’s life, her house, her relationships with everyone, and her money. You see her ruthless side. You really aren’t sympathetic to her. Even after her backstory is explained(thankfully, or there would be no redemptive side to this opportunistic person), I still didn’t like her. I wanted to punch her through half of the book. She completely takes over everything, and it appears that she’s up to no good, even if she is wonderful with Claire(and she is, despite the fact that she steals and pockets money from selling off Claire’s valuables. She also manages to sleep with and get pregnant by a man that Claire has slight romantic interest in. Nice girl. NOT) for the most part, fooling everyone but the foreman of the farm and Claire’s ex husband Forster. From the backstory, you’re thinking all she craves is the safety net of her mother’s arms(in this case, mom substitute Claire), but the material possessions take over and she eventually ends up making one very bad move, that endangers not only her life, but also that of Claire and Lucy, her daughter. The book ends the only way it could have ended, and I’m glad for that. If they threw some convoluted shit at me, well, I would’ve not termed it awesome. But because of all the psychological twists and turns, you can’t put it down. Or stop thinking about it. Or stop recommending it. Which is the mark of a great book. So- do yourself a favor and read it.