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REVIEW – The Red Tree (2009) by Caitlin R. Kiernan

November 15, 2010

If you listen to literary podcasts or read books such as David Shields’ Reality Hunger: Manifesto (2010) or Gabriel Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism? (2010) then the chances are that you will have gotten the impression that battle lines are being drawn between the postmodern novelists and the traditional novelists.  Great critics and defenders of the traditional novel such as James Wood are being described as the last of their kind: “The Owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk” they say…

One criticism leveled at postmodern writers is that while they may experiment with form and content, they have long-since given up the power to move us in the way that traditional novels move us.  Is there any truth to this?  Can one be too postmodern for one’s own good?

In a recent review for THE ZONE, I looked at a Horror novel by Caitlin R. Kiernan.  The Red Tree is an intimidatingly intelligent piece of writing that takes a traditional Jamesian ghost story involving a haunted tree and shatters it into a million postmodern shards.  Kiernan tells the story of the tree through dozens of different literary devices; unreliable narrators, biased editors, short fictional commentary, fictional works of non-fiction, made-up quotations, made-up local stories and a whole avalanche of lies, half-truths and delusions.  While I adored the book and consider it to be one of the smartest works of genre I have encountered in a long while, I could not help but wonder, is The Red Tree too clever to be scary?

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