Mention a recent death in a conversation and individuals will most likely become apologetic, fidget and then quickly change the topic to something more light-hearted. Death is something that’s uncomfortable and hard to deal with for those not immediately affected by it. For those who have lost a loved one – a parent or a spouse – it can be unbearable.
In his new novel, “The Wishing Trees,” John Shors examines how a father and daughter travel together through death and grief to something near happiness.
For Ian and Mattie, death comes in the form of disease, taking wife and mother Kate from them quickly and cruelly. However, Kate still manages to be with her husband and daughter from the beginning of Shors’ novel in the form of letters and trinkets written from her hospital bed.
Through these letters, Kate guides Ian and 10-year-old daughter Mattie on a ‘walkabout’ – a term drawn from Ian’s Australian roots – through the places where Kate and Ian fell in love. Father and daughter travel to Asia, tracing the footsteps left in the past.
Within the first few pages of Shors’ novel, the reader can’t help but be drawn in by the vivid descriptions.
The reader can easily hear the clink and clatter of the plates in a sushi restaurant in Japan, or see the gleaming white lines of the Taj Mahal. The descriptions sketch images for the reader akin to the sketches Mattie leaves for her mother. Where some authors fail to describe or run into lengthy descriptions, Shors uses few words to convey dynamic descriptions.
Through their travels Mattie and Ian meet others who have dealt with loss. Whether it’s Tiffany, a Peace Corps volunteer who lost a friend to cruelty in a Nepalese village or Rashidi the turbaned Egyptian guide, each individual is given a distinct and generally charming personality. The reader can’t help but want to hear more about each new acquaintance.
Unfortunately, with the span of the novel being rather large, many of these characters are not given more than a passing glance. Though much of the narrative is devoted to them, the characters do not get significant space to tell their stories before Mattie and Ian travel to another country and Shors’ moves onto the next chapter. Without time to digest the stories of healing that these supporting characters give, readers may not understand the importance of their message that grief is just as much a part of living as death itself.
Mattie and Ian’s relationship is one that the book relies on for its momentum. Shors’ does not have any difficulty revealing the tenderness of a father and daughter relationship. Though that portrayal of tenderness is one of the key factors of the novel, it is also one of the faults. Ian’s worries for his daughter are constant, as any father’s would be. The worries are the same from chapter to chapter and become repetitive.
“The Wishing Trees” is a novel that takes the reader by the hand and walks them through the stages of grieving right along with Mattie and Ian. Through the duo’s travels, Shors tells the reader that though grief may always be there, small bits of it can be left behind like the wishes that Mattie leaves for her mother in sacred trees.
Bear through with Ian and Mattie in Shors’ new novel “The Wishing Trees.” The journey is touching and vibrant and the book is not one to be left behind.
John Shors will be at the Boulder Bookstore located at 1107 Pearl St. Sept. 8 at 7:30pm for a book signing.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ana Faria at Ana.email@example.com.