At a certain point, dark social satire bleeds into horror. That can be powerful, but it can also very easily miss its target. Percival Everett's new novel The Trees hits just the right mark. It's a racial allegory grounded in history, shrouded in mystery, and dripping with blood. An incendiary device you don't want to put down ... No work of art will ever right justice denied, but The Trees does a spectacular job of resurrection ... It's a novel of compelling contrasts: frank, pitiless prose leavened by dark humor; a setting that is simultaneously familiar and strange; a genre-defying, masterful blend of the sacred and the profane. The language is self-consciously old-fashioned in a modern, stylized way ... But dark wordplay and local color are ultimately a sideshow to the bigger project. Despite the absurdist touches, the novel is deadly serious and reverential in its explication of the legacy of lynching in all forms and places and devotes time and space to honoring the dead. Whether by coincidence or intent, The Trees is set in 2018, the same year that The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama opened its doors. With a highwire combination of whodunnit, horror, humor and razor blade sharp insight The Trees is a fitting tribute of a novel: Hard to put down and impossible to forget.
Humor may seem ill placed in a novel about lynching, but Everett has mastered the movement between unspeakable terror and knockout comedy, so the reader covers a laughing mouth with one hand and stifles a gasp with the other.
... a radical genre game both hilarious and deadly serious ... As the murders escalate and make national news, Everett summons horror tropes in service to notions of what justice might look like. And by visiting violence on the descendants of Till’s killers, he examines the notion of collective guilt — the way it festers in the absence of reckoning or reconciliation ... Everett’s enormous talent for wordplay — the kind that provokes laughter and the kind that gut-punches — is at its peak. He leans on the language of outrage and hyperbole to provoke reactions a history book could never elicit ... If white readers who live outside the South believe themselves to be 'in' on Everett’s joke, they too are in for a surprise. The rash of revenge he unleashes captures those responsible for horrors far beyond the Jim Crow South, eventually implicating virtually all of us ... Everett makes clear that the sins of the fathers fall upon all white Americans — anyone who has benefited from terror, intimidation or systematic repression, regardless of whether they held the rope. He has made some audacious leaps over nearly 40 years of writing, but The Trees may be his most audacious. He makes a revenge fantasy into a comic horror masterpiece. He turns narrative stakes into moral stakes and raises them sky-high. Readers will laugh until it hurts.
The Trees is a wild book: a gory pulp revenge fantasy and a detective narrative that alternates between deadpan and slapstick modes of satire. It has all the right beats for the big screen, except that it’s too profane and obscene to be greenlit in Hollywood, even for the likes of Quentin Tarantino. His retribution epics offer an obvious point of comparison: The Trees is just as blood-soaked and just as hilarious as Inglourious Basterds or Django Unchained, but it comes with more authentic historical weight for being set in a dreamlike counterpresent rather than a cartoonishly counterfactual past ... For all the absurdism, there is of course a serious strand to The Trees an elegiac strain enters the novel ... It’s tempting to call The Trees the ultimate novel of the Trump era. It is the rare book that sees the forty-fifth president less as a menace here than a nuisance, the Republicans as so many falling elderly dominoes, and their white-supremacist voters a decrepit network of armed bozos. In that way, it’s also tempting to read The Trees as a hopeful book, but such a reading might also be naive.
As the specter of a racist past turns to the walking dead, the willful ignorance of a nation is brought to the fore in Percival Everett’s The Trees. With his latest novel, Everett—who was named a 2021 Pulitzer finalist for the experimental Telephone—has written another thrilling, intelligent, and absurdist cross-genre narrative ... One of Everett’s talents is his ability to so deftly juxtapose parodies of racists with the gravity of racist violence ... The humor in Everett’s novel is agitated by the consistent presence of Black bodies, their presence looming over racist white caricatures and insisting on being seen and remembered. In blurring the lines between detective fiction and satire, humor and social commentary, The Trees evokes contradicting emotions. While the violence on the page elicits horror, the incredible ignorance driving the white characters turns terror into gallows humor ... What is at first rendered as pure satire through exaggerated violence is later grounded in reality and recognized as faithful.
The author of twenty-two novels, he excels at the unblinking execution of extraordinary conceits ... Such commitment to the bit is exemplary of Everett’s fiction. Yet nothing he has written could be sufficient preparation for his latest book, The Trees ... [The Trees] synthesizes many of these abiding preoccupations: race and media, symbols and appropriation, and, especially, the unsettling power of corpses to shock and reorient the living. The novel can be read as a grisly fable about whose murder counts in the public imagination—reprising the question that Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, confronted in 1955: How do you make America notice Black death? ... The killings in The Trees represent an even more striking attempt to return focus to the culprits ... There’s a certain self-referential exhaustion to the novel’s killings, which can be understood as a kind of despairing joke: for the country to really care about dead Black people, they’d have to be found next to white ones ... an almost disconcertingly smooth narrative, the short chapters dealt as quickly as cards ... The mystery itself is tightly constructed and suspensefully paced—until, as in Everett’s other novels, a chasm opens between form and content. The tension, in this case, lies between the open-and-shut conventions of the crime novel and the immensity of Everett’s subject.
Percival Everett...has managed to write a fast-paced and witty novel about a somber subject that lends itself to neither treatment. The Trees gives us the zombielike return to life, and the search for vengeance, of people who were lynched. Significantly, despite skewering everyone from rural Southern whites to Donald Trump, The Trees is never flippant about those felled by racist violence ... This attempt on the part of Everett to give all victims of lynching in America their due, rather than restrict himself to a single historical (or fictionalized) example thereof, ends up becoming the novel's main shortcoming. Indeed, The Trees grows more and more diffuse as the story progresses. Moreover, the zombielike avengers' practice of meting out punishment to innocent descendants of those who perpetrated racist atrocities is logically problematic and morally objectionable ... Yet if we interpret The Trees as a cautionary tale, the question of perceived inherited guilt diminishes in contentiousness. Perhaps Everett is issuing a warning to his readers-cum-compatriots: Seize the opportunity afforded by this historic moment of racial reckoning to look unflinchingly at one of the great scourges of the American experiment.
Everett draws from a series of genres—literary novel, police procedural, horror—to create a book that’s both unique and difficult to describe. It’s a delicate balancing act that he pulls off masterfully, another brilliant book by one of the most essential authors in American literature. Much of the novel’s power stems from its structure. The narrative unfolds through dozens of short chapters, with Everett jumping seamlessly among different points of view. It’s a technique that works especially well given Everett’s nods to cinematic conventions ... This structure allows Everett to subvert the tropes of films like Mississippi Burning and Ghosts of Mississippi (there is, of course, a theme here), in which stories of racial violence focus on white people swooping in to save the day. The image of the white savior has shaped—for the worse—the way Americans process the history of race hatred; The Trees upends that narrative ... Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Trees is how funny it is. It’s hard to find humor in a book that deals with lynching, but Everett manages it ... a masterpiece of satire that overturns the white narrative around race in America.
Unsurprisingly, for readers of the endlessly resourceful Everett, a writer often described as 'uncategorizable' because of his diverse oeuvre and experimentation with genre and form, The Trees is difficult to describe in these terms. Just as it draws from established modes including Southern gothic, hard-boiled detective fiction and even the buddy-cop comedy, it also eschews fundamental elements of these modes, and of the novel generally ... a perverse comic element ... The novel’s depiction of a wide range of law enforcement officers builds a nuanced exploration of the ways policing has perpetuated white supremacy in America. In this, and in other ways, the “rising” that occurs in The Trees feels powerfully prescient, especially considering the waves of protest against police violence that followed the murder of George Floyd.
Unraveling across over a hundred crisp chapters, the novel moves quickly. There are bloodied hands, a detective narrative, deadpan and slapstick satire, profanities, and obscenity ... The novel’s tension is pervasive and the gore of the crimes permeates the readers’ minds, creating an intimacy that forces readers to look closely at what could otherwise be just another case they’d read about in the news ... Everett also uses symbolism to convey deeper meaning—namely the titular trees. The trees play an important role in the book, referring both to trees from which lynched victims were hung and to family trees that point to the perpetrators of past crimes ... A darkly amusing read, The Trees directly addresses racism, police brutality, and a culture of violence in a way that’s as urgent as it is uproarious.
The Trees weaves tropes of pulp-cop noir with trademark acuity and genre-bending inventiveness to deliver a swift, startlingly expansive take on the legacy of lynching in the American South ... the novel shapeshifts into something closer to silver screen genre-benders like Get Out or Django Unchained, or maybe Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown crossed with something Elmore Leonard ... At the heart of The Trees is an elegant sleight of hand. Appearing at first dedicated to the tropes implied by its thriller billing and familiar caricature of the white rural south, the novel swiftly departs from the constraints of genre to suggest that Everett’s portrayal of the rural White South is less exaggerated than it initially seems ... Everett is talking with the past in The Trees, but he’s also talking to the present, about the future. To read the book is to be in rare conversation with all three.
Everett’s sharp latest...spins a puckish revenge fantasy into dark social satire underpinned by a whodunit ... The novel unfolds over a hundred super-short chapters, allowing Everett to maintain a breakneck pace as the crime spree spreads north ... Everett delves into a miasma of racist stereotypes held toward and among multiple groups, sometimes with the same sophomoric humor applied to characters’ loopy names ... Still, this timely absurdist novel produces plenty of chills.