Saturday, August 24, 2013

Book Review: The Tree House by Douglas Thayer

Title: The Tree House
Author: Douglas Thayer
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Personal (signed!) copy
This book would be rated: PG-13

I come to reviewing this book with a certain amount of trepidation. Doug Thayer was my professor a couple of years ago, in his final semester teaching creative writing at BYU. I feel like I have to get that out of the way right away, before I start talking about the novel.

The Tree House is the story of Harris Thatcher, a boy who grows up in south Provo during World War II. He's a nice boy, a good boy, who enjoys swimming and fishing with his best friend Luke, and eating malts on Saturday night with his father. And then tragedy strikes-- his father, the rock of Harris's teenage existence, dies. At first, it seems impossible that Harris will be able to move on, but he finds a job making pies at a cafe in town, starts dating girls, and eventually finds joy in life again. But then tragedy strikes, again and again. Harris does the things good Provo boys his age do-- he goes on a mission to Germany, he gets drafted and sent to Korea, and although he wants to have the pure faith Luke does, he finds that it comes hard for him. And then there's more tragedy.

I found the darkness of The Tree House to be a little hard to take. Harris felt like a Job character, but without Job's perfect faith. But Harris's lack of pure faith was the thing I liked best about the novel. He wants to know and has a particle of belief, but finds it hard to turn that desire to believe into a full-blown testimony. This feels like so many people I know, and often like myself-- wanting to believe, but not being able to surrender completely to belief. There were times that I found Thayer's writing style, with lots of short, Hemingwayesque sentences, and lots of non sequiturs, a little affected. I also wondered if the story tried to cover too much, but maybe I only felt that way because it was so sad (although ultimately redeeming).

All in all, I think The Tree House is a story worth reading, and an important work. It's definitely a serious piece of Mormon fiction, written from the point of view of a Mormon boy becoming a Mormon man who is working out his issues of faith and life right in the thick of Mormonism instead of at the edges, which is where we often find great Mormon writing. 

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