The Memory Trees is a dark magical realism novel about a mysterious family legacy, a centuries-old feud, and a tragic loss that resurfaces when sixteen-year-old Sorrow returns to her mother’s family orchard for the summer. Sorrow Lovegood’s life has been shaped by the stories of the women who came before her: brave, resilient women who settled long ago on a mercurial apple orchard in Vermont. The land has been passed down through generations, and Sorrow and her family take pride in its strange history. Their offbeat habits may be ridiculed by other townspeople—especially their neighbors, the Abrams family—but for the first eight years of her life, the orchard is Sorrow’s whole world. Then one winter night everything changes. Sorrow’s sister Patience is tragically killed. Their mother suffers a mental breakdown. Sorrow is sent to live with her dad in Miami, away from the only home she’s ever known. Now sixteen, Sorrow’s memories of her life in Vermont are maddeningly hazy; even the details of her sister’s death are unclear. She returns to the orchard for the summer, determined to learn more about her troubled childhood and the family she left eight years ago. Why has her mother kept her distance over the years? What actually happened the night Patience died? Is the orchard trying to tell her something, or is she just imagining things?
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It is evident that Wallace is quite a talented writer in every page of this book. The way she describes the Lovegood apple orchard in Vermont is so clear and distinct that it actually becomes a character in its own right. Despite horrifying events and traumas that have taken place on the land, the Lovegoods are still nostalgic of their family’s lives there in the orchard, so much so that the nostalgia is catching. Reading this book made me miss being out in nature or the place where I spent my childhood.
The spine of the plot rests on the centuries-old feud between the Lovegoods and the Abrams', who have inflicted so much pointless pain on each other, all fueled by greed and suspicion. For this reason, the story has some echoes of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Though there aren’t exactly star-crossed lovers in THE MEMORY TREES, there is tragedy that ensues from the distrust between the Lovegoods and Abrams’, just like the Capulets and Montagues.
Despite the similarities with the play, Wallace has created colorful, engaging, and original characters. Sorrow, the narrator and main character, is compelling and as a reader, I was rooting for her every step of the way. The twist in the end is truly surprising and I like how it nuanced everyone even more. With that being said, there are a few moments that Sorrow’s dialogue feels a bit off, based on how she has otherwise been portrayed. Most notably, there is a scene when Sorrow talks on the phone with her step-sister and the one in which Sorrow confronts her mother for the first time. Sorrow is very harsh in these moments and it feels out of character, which in turn, takes me out of the story.
Moreover, THE MEMORY TREES could be triggering for those dealing with mental illness or those who have lost someone to the disease. This novel, dark and disturbing, is not for someone needing a happy, uplifting read. With that being said, those that don’t mind the eerie and haunting, will consume this book like an exquisitely rich, gourmet meal, one that both satisfies you and makes you sick.