The Tree Museum
Recommendation: don’t read
I have a fantasy about how humanity will be perfected when I am put in charge. Not installed bureaucratically, you understand, but as one with full dictatorial powers. As Emperor William I, everything—and I mean everything—will be put in order. And fast. Arnie’s answer to What is Best in Life? will be operational within minutes of my coronation: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.”
Frankly, I can’t see how this scheme wouldn’t work. Try to point out any logical inconsistencies or historical evidence about why I won’t get my way, and I will close my ears and ignore you. My belief cannot be abjured.
I’m far from the only self-blind Utopian. Kathleen Kaufman is one, too, but her fantasy is more banal. It’s the standard Green one, which asserts that humanity will achieve Grace when: (1) businessmen and their businesses are no more, (2) people are skinny, (3) all are vegetarian, (4) oil which “causes all those wars” disappears, (5) the guns and munitions used to fight those wars vanish, (6) all farming is “organic”, (7) people are crammed and stacked into a small as space as possible, living four and five to a room (come to think of it, that’s how I live), and (8) “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, i.e. people are forced to “fulfill their purposes”. And money won’t matter. All these elements are found in The Tree Museum.
Nothing much is happening in a small California town except that Walmart—I mean PricePlan—moves in and irritates our heroine Rosemary and her loony husband Nate. Nate spends most of the book having imaginary conversations with Judd Hirsch, but not as Judd Hirsch, and instead in his role in a TV show called Dear John. Why? I wasn’t able to figure it out. Maybe it’s because Nate also has conversations with half dozen more TV show characters. I won’t be spoiling anything by telling you that they don’t whisper sweet nothings to Nate. They suggest, in bold language, that young Nate attempt certain uncivilized activities.
One day, and suddenly, “Waitresses,” automatons dressed as ’50s car hops, appear and materialize items to those who ask. Everything is free, but greed is punished. Somebody who asks for a bunch of cars or watches vanishes! As do all “greedy businessmen” who “wear suits.” Poof! Gone in a flash of light. These waitresses mean business. Or they are mean to businesses, because shortly after businessmen have been dealt with, their Mecca, PricePlan, also bites it.
Not all need cower in fear, however, because signs—produced mysteriously by the “Signmakers”, the entities responsible for the waitresses—usually appear to give warning so that one can mend one’s ways. The signs are almost always admonitory or corrective in nature, but a few announce upcoming measures like moving from “Phase Two” to “Phase Three”. I produce a simulacrum of one below.
Who are these strange Signmakers and why are they killing (Kaufman prefers the euphemism permanently removing) people? Standard communistic blood lust? We never learn. That’s OK with me. Kaufman can keep her secret. But what flummoxes me is that nobody—for months—seems to think the Waitresses and their terrors worthy of discussion. After the Signmakers come, characters make small adjustments to their lives, but largely ignore what’s going on around them. We’re not even sure, and nobody seems to care, until half-way through and years later that what’s happening in California is also occurring anywhere else in the world.
It is obvious, though, what the intent of the Signmakers is. Their purpose is to correct humanity’s ungreen, capitalistic behaviors, and to teach them—the hard way—that they’d better get along and stop killing each other and the planet or they will be killed.
This is Kaufman’s first novel, which was obvious even before I read the blurb because she made her heroine—wait for it—a writer. A frustrated one, anyway. And nearly every chapter, and there are 75 of them in this 258-page book, contains a digression. These, sometimes frustrating, anecdotes fill pages and pages, though they are a necessity because there isn’t much happening and, as said, there are no explanations for anything, though she does manages to throw in a dig against the Australian government’s treatment of Aborigines, and she never passes an opportunity to malign oil. Worst of all, she killed off my favorite character, a Ron Kuby-talking psychic hippy who is happy to just be doing whatever it is he is doing.
It has come to our attention that
has written a book which has no end.
Please consider this a warning.
The Tree Museum might be had from The Way Things Are Publications or any on-line bookstore. Publisher Mark Havenner, who is a sweetheart, kindly sent the book to me for review.