I don’t always like a book that has me tearing up before page fifty. Of course, when I am reading something called The Crying Tree, I probably should have seen it coming. But...there aren’t many books (no matter how many sappy images are called to mind with the title) that trigger my waterworks. Alas, I was blinking back tears by the end of the sixth chapter. Nowhere near page fifty. And despite the title and the heart-wrenching synopsis on the back cover, I couldn’t help but feel blindsides by the depth of emotion The Crying Tree was already wringing out of me.
The Crying Tree is the story of the Stanley family, and more specifically Irene Stanley, wife and mother of two. Having very reluctantly relocated from her home in Carlton, Illinois, Irene has worked diligently to build a new life for herself and her family. Despite her initial misgivings, in just over a year she has adjusted well to life in the small town of Blaine, Oregon. And her children, eleven year old Bliss and fifteen year old Shep are thriving. Until one night, the family’s newfound happiness is shattered when a robbery gone wrong claims the life of her boy. He is found bleeding to death by his father, who tries unsuccessfully to save his life.
Irene is destroyed. After burying her first born under a tree that seems to weep sap, she sends her daughter back to Illinois to stay with family. She has resolved to remain in Oregon, near her son, at least until his killer is captured and prosecuted. Nine months later, Daniel Robbins has his day in court. He is only nineteen years old, little more than a child himself. When he is led into the courtroom, Irene can’t help but notice that he glares at her husband, Nate, with an inexplicable level of hatred and blatant rage. When all is said and done, Robbins is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. With nothing to do but wait for his execution, Irene and Nate return home to Illinois.
Unfortunately, Shep’s loss scars the family in the irreparable way that only the loss of a child can. Irene turns to alcohol to suppress her emotions, and her entire family suffers. Not least of all Bliss, her surviving child. After an eye-opening confrontation with her daughter, she pulls herself out of her stupor far enough to once again begin caring for herself and her husband. However, Irene knows that she is just going through the motions, that she is trapped in her own hatred. One night, after almost taking her own life, she realizes that the only way out of the prison she has created for herself is to find forgiveness for her son’s murderer, who has spent the last decade rotting in Oregon’s death row. The next day, she finds herself writing a letter to Robbins. After sending it, she feels as though the weight of the world has been lifted from her shoulders, and she begins living anew.
Months later, the unexpected happens. She receives a response from Daniel Robbins. Resisting her initial urge to throw the letter away, she reads it. And to her amazement, finds that Robbins is nothing that she ever expected. From that initial correspondence, an unexpected kinship is born. They exchange letters in secrecy for another almost a decade, until the day that Irene gets a letter that changes everything. A date has been set for Robbins’ execution. This information forces into light Irene’s secret. However, she is not the only one who has been withholding information. In a rage, her husband reveals one of his own. One so big that in a single moment, it warps everything Irene thought she knew about her son, his murder, and her husband.
The Crying Tree is ‘about’ many, many things. However, above all else, what I was able to take away from it was the beauty and power of forgiveness. Because, even though life can be ugly and horrible, we do not have to be. We each possess the power to free ourselves from any self-imposed prisons we may be living in, and we can go on with our lives in any way we choose. Starting now.
I can give this book no less than five very, very enthusiastic stars.