Review: Shade of the Tree

Shade of the TreeShade of the Tree
by Piers Anthony

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shade of the Tree / 0-812-53103-5

I enjoyed this book, as I do most of Anthony's stand-alone books. "Shade of the Tree" cleverly ties together all the essential elements for a proper horror story: bitterly cold weather, forebodingly sharp objects, hallucinations and nightmares, and an increasing sense of isolation and doom. I will also add that the two children in the novel are superbly written and manage to seem both realistically childish and yet reasonably mature without ever edging too far off either spectrum - that's often not easy to accomplish for an adult author, and I was definitely pleased and impressed in that regard.

Having said that, "Shade of the Tree" does have the usual issues that often accompany Anthony's novels. The main character of the father is poorly fleshed out and somewhat one-dimensional - the father's stubborn refusal to alter or adjust his family's lifestyle in the face of clear evidence of hostile supernatural forces is exceedingly jarring. He doesn't deny the existence of the ghosts that fade in and out of his sight by chalking them up to hallucinations (which would be a credible response for a normal human being faced with the supernatural), but rather he accepts them as real and as accepts them as a very real potential threat. However, this tacit acceptance is the complete end of his response - he doesn't take additional steps to actually deal with the existence of the ghosts (ideally, by moving out and taking his two children with him) or to try to minimize their effect on his family in any way.

Anthony also falls into the two major flaws he introduces into pretty much every other book he's written. The first flaw is that of the "Perfectly Pert Patty" character - Anthony never seems happy until he introduces an impossibly buxom barely-legal girl-woman who must be introduced as a flawless physical specimen every single time she enters the scene. No mere "Bonnie showed up at the doorstep," no, it must be "Bonnie showed up at the doorstep and everyone couldn't help but notice that she had brought her stunningly spectacular breasts with her." Yes, the story needed a maternal figure to step-mother the children, but I'm not certain that a 19-year-old Sophia Loren look-alike (literally!) was mandated and I haven't known too many impossibly gorgeous, gourmet cooking, local beauty queen 19-year-olds whose life ambition was to marry a widower twice her age and with two children half her own age. The seduction scene between the older widower and the young woman is rather skin-crawling, but this is pretty much a classic Anthony set-up so if you've read him before, you're used to it. I don't have to like it, though.

The other major flaw that Anthony can't help but reduce absolutely everything to a computer-analogy. At the risk of spoilers, a telepathic tree is not remotely like a computer, and trying to describe it as such (particularly in a novel otherwise completely devoid of any technology at all) is extremely jarring and inappropriate. The reader is left chortling over such gems as, "a telepathic being, even a tree, was easier to accept than the supernatural," leaving us with the impression that a 'telepathic' tree who summons mental ghosts and zombies to kill people is NOT 'supernatural' in Anthony's vocabulary. If that isn't super-natural, then what is, I wonder?

All told, "Shade of the Tree" is a fine book. I like it, it was worth the used price I paid, and I'll probably read it again someday. Just be aware that there are problems, but if you like Piers Anthony, these problems are ones you've dealt with before.

~ Ana Mardoll

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