Other than the very fluid prose, there was nothing I liked about this unusual novel, the characters a group of self-serving, self-obsessed people in a country club community that values only the material, excess and accomplishment. Yet, somehow, Trees has managed to keep me engaged.
In a society built on wealth and position, the small pond / big fish enclave of Edenís Glen, all is image. Most of the novel is set on the golf course of an exclusive country club in the Midwest, the social crux of the entire community. Gossip is rife and hero worship rampant, none so greatly favored as Ann and Preston Baird Winthrop, putative king and queen of Edenís Glen.
Anne and Preston have invested in their own press. It is all the more shocking, then, when the marriage is rocked by Prestonís admission of infidelity. Anneís immediate reaction becomes a blueprint for further actions: of course she canít sleep in the same room; of course she canít live under the same roof. Internalizing her pain and sudden insecurity, Anne turns to absolutes instead of solutions, as though she is trapped in the box of societyís expectations.
A woman who has never once entertained self-doubt, Anne is rendered helpless. As for Preston, he continues his daily routine at the family-owned bank, responding to crisis as clumsily as his wife, neither of them selfless enough to give a thought to their teenaged son. The result is devastating, a grand drama of clashing egos unaccustomed to compromise.
The problem with these characters Ė and everyone in this novel - is that they are products of the modern world: self-serving, desperate to rise to that next level in a fish bowl of a town where nothing goes unremarked. Norman Bond, the boorish newcomer to town, bullies his way into the country club, only to be the brunt of sly jokes. Oblivious, Norman dogs Preston, seeking a wedge as though money and opportunity will purchase him cache and acceptance.
His newly religious wife seeks comfort in her church. Then there is Vicky Thayer, who owns a dress shop and aspires to be Anneís exclusive confidant, only to betray Anneís secrets and bask in the attentions of the curious. Nor are the young people exempt for a surfeit of self-involvement, from Anneís confused, laconic son to Piggy, a vicious young man aptly nicknamed after a character in The Lord of the Flies.
Nevertheless, Trees has written a compelling novel, capturing my attention like a roadside accident. There is not one redeeming or likeable character in the story, as though all are infected by the isolation of their world, the exclusivity that breeds a slew of those who covet ďthe good life.Ē It ends predictably in tragedy, a tale of betrayal, ambition and complacence for those with a taste for reality laced with cynicism and opportunism, a Nietzschean Garden of Eden.