Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review: "The Private Lives of Trees" by Alejandro Zambra

It is really hard to criticize a book that is hardly long enough to warrant such slandering. At a very slim 98 pages, Alejandro Zambra’s The Private Lives of Tree barely sticks around long enough to leave a good or bad impression. But it does give the reader a neutral feeling, never letting the reader feel like they are wasting their time by focusing on such a short novel (although it is defiantly more of a novella). About the book it self, it is pretty okay. Zambra is not interested in long, separate sequences about dreams or crime like his fellow countryman Bolano. This is a more grounded story, and a much more emotional one at that, dealing with everyday feelings such as anxiety and loneliness in a rather compact setting, with a few too many odd timeline decisions that would have been more noticeable on a larger platform. The tight, compact story details a young professor and writer named Julian, who is reading to his stepdaughter at night before she goes to bed. He is waiting for his wife, Veronica, to get home, who is later than she normally is. He is panicky, since his shaky past is ripe for a cold dish of karmic justice. He improvises the story he is telling her, about two sentient trees in the forest and working on a similar novel about a man trimming his bonsai tree, which happened to be Zambra’s first novel in real life. He also imagines how the story will affect her when she is older, and what she will think of him. This book toys with some cool ideas, reminiscent of the novels of Paul Auster, who gets named dropped, and too a lesser degree Rivka Galchen’s novel Atmospheric Disturbances. But it’s the flash-forwards that really make this book an imperfect gem, and with its size and scope it is very noticeable. But I do recommend this, or any other Zambra’s novels, which have similar lengths. They’re not bad and can be read in one sitting.

Rating: 4/5

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