Comedy, tragedy, and magic join hands in HARRY’S TREES, a charming, if uneven, novel. Its appeal lies in the two main characters: Harry Crane, a middle-aged average-Joe kind of guy, and a cheeky, bossy nine-year-old named Oriana Jeffers.
Both are in the throes of loss—Harry lost his wife in a freak accident, Oriana her father from a freak aneurysm. Once they meet, the two sense an immediate kinship and offer each other a path out of grief.
Set in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains, the story draws on the natural world, especially the deep woods with their prodigious variety of trees and towering canopy. Author Jon Cohen cultivates his setting, priming its susceptibility to enchantment—which comes in the form of a fairy tale brought to life.
Young Oriana is convinced that her father’s spirit has temporarily taken the form of a forest creature and that he will, at some point, return to her. And so she roams the forest in search of him, dangling an assortment of snacks and candy bars from tree branches to keep him fed.
Oriana’s obsession with magic distresses her mother, but Harry encourages the girl, even playing along in a project she devises for the two of them. After all, it’s the glint of a golden Snickers wrapper caught by the sun that had saved Harry’s own life.
Cohen does a wonderful job inhabiting the minds of Harry and Oriana. He brings the two to life in a realistic story woven throughout with fairy tale motifs. The author is less successful, however, when it comes to other characters. Drawn with comic effect, most come across as mere caricatures.
If you want a beautiful and adorably feisty female: check—Amanda, Oriana’s mom. If you want a sneering villain: check—Stu, a greedy real estate agent. How about a kindly, wizened sage? Check again—Olive, a librarian and keeper of myths. An addle-headed drunk with a heart of gold? Yep, check—Ronnie, friend of Oriana’s father.
Shenanigans ensue—too many and too distracting. Mostly, you’ll be impatient to get back to Oriana and Harry’s enchanted forest; theirs is the adventure you care about most.
But all’s well that ends well. In fact, the very last pages include an Epitaph, one of the best endings in the whole wide world of books—it’s a howl, I guarantee (though don’t read ahead—it’s worth the wait).
Overall, Harry’s Trees is endearing though somewhat choppy, a novel that addresses important issues of grief, guilt, and working to find happiness after loss.
A former college English instructor, Molly developed LitLovers after teaching an online literature course several years ago. It was so much fun—even the students loved it—that she decided to take it public. If Molly’s not working on LitLovers, she’s sleeping.