The Family Tree, by John Everson

Short Take:  Attack of the Mary Sue.

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I keep telling myself, “Nerd, stay away from the best-of lists.  They are always disappointing.”  But then my self starts whining, “Awwwww, come onnnnnnnnnnn, it looks soooooooo goooooooood!!!  Let’s just tryyyyyyyyy it, pleaaaaaaaaaase?”  And eventually, I give in to the whining, and sure enough, I’m right, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t continue doing the same darn thing and letting random websites tell me what I should be reading.  Because sometimes I find a delicious hidden treat.  Unfortunately, The Family Tree is not one of those.

Scott Belvedere is living and working in Chicago.  He’s a single guy, not super successful with the ladies, with what seems to be a decent career  His life is interrupted when he receives notice that he has inherited The Family Tree Inn.  It’s a bed and breakfast type place in rural Virginia that has been passed from Belvedere to Belvedere for well over a hundred years, and he’s the last one.

Having no clue of his ancestry or the inn, he travels to Virginia to check it out.  There he finds a beautiful old inn, built around a huge, ancient tree.  The tree is special, as its sap, when consumed, can heal wounds and grant long life.  But nothing wonderful comes without a sacrifice, and the tree’s gifts are no exception.

The plot was actually fairly simple and straightforward, with some decent action pieces.  I usually like a fair amount of complexity in my brain candy, but the brevity was a good thing in this book. Mainly because not a lot happens.  It felt like 75% of the book was just self-inserting wish fulfillment.  The characters are mostly very flat, especially Scott.  The few sentences I wrote above are pretty much all we ever learn of him.

Most of the time when we see Scott, he’s busy having sex with every attractive female character in the book, over and over.  I’m not anti-sex-scene by any means, but when the characters have zero personality, and the plot is mostly telegraphed from the beginning, and it’s just hook up after hook up after hook up with impossibly flawless, beautiful women, it’s less like a horror novel and more like someone’s sweaty fantasy.

It’s nearly impossible to have a good book without having good characters.  The Family Tree has a decent (if mostly predictable) plot, but that really just isn’t enough.  When Scott and one of the female characters fall in love, it’s obvious that it’s because the plot demands it.  You know when you’re watching a movie, and the characters fall in love, and it’s obvious that the actors really have zero chemistry at all?  But they have to do what the script says, and in the end, it’s not very enjoyable to watch.  It’s like that.

I never got a sense of who these people were, why they would care so much for each other, what the attraction was beyond the same physical connection he had with the other women in the book.  If anything, she seemed rather naive and excited by the idea of living in a big city, and he was OK with that.  Not exactly the stuff fairy tales are made of.

The Nerd’s Rating:   Two Happy Neurons

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