04 Jul / The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha
In her reader’s guide at book’s end, Naseem Rakha explains how in 1996 she was assigned to cover Oregon’s first excecution in over three decades. Once finished with the assignment, she continued to ask questions and “by far the most compelling [stories] were those told by the people who had come to terms with the murder of a loved one and no longer felt it necessary to seek retribution.” From that arc of the “most desperate kind of anguish to reconciliation and even love,” Rakha began her first novel.
Irene Stanley, wife of Nate and mother of Shep and Bliss, has the worst thing imaginable happen: her 15-year-old son is murdered. Wth a single shot, Daniel Robbin destroys a quarter of the Stanley family, and the leftover mother/father/daughter trio remain barely glued together by the sheer hate they share against Shep’s killer. The exhaustion of that hate nearly kills Irene, and she realizes the only salvation for her own shattered soul is forgiveness. Before she can throw herself back into darkness, she writes her son’s murderer of her grace-filled decision, beginning a correspondence that will last almost a decade.
Nineteen years after he ended Shep’s life. Robbin is finally assigned his own execution date. Tab Mason, the superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, must reluctantly orchestrate Robbin’s execution; that decision forces Mason to face the unrelenting violence he somehow survived in his own youth.
Rakha deftly interweaves the Stanleys’ bitter journeys towards reclaiming their own lives with the story of a troubled man assigned to take a killer’s life. “Pain and grace,” one her characters utters. “Pain and grace” combined make for an apt summary of Rakha’s exquisite debut.
Be prepared for some heartbreaking tears; and, if you’re a mother, you’ll never be able to hear Silent Night, especially the part about “mother and child,” quite the same way again.