A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Review: The Sweet Gum Tree by Katherine Allred

on October 14, 2013

This book incited too much rage to be expressed even in a mock Twitter review. I’m going to have to go mock Savage Love on its ass:

I’ve been in love since childhood with the same woman. I was severely abused by my father and looked down upon in our town, and she’s never really understood how those traumas affected my life. She makes plenty of mistakes herself, has even used and deceived people, yet still her reaction to anyone else’s mistake is insane anger that causes her to make impulsive life decisions. She never trusts my word, although she paints herself as being loyal and devoted, and she’s full of unconscious privilege, and slut-shames and fat-shames other woman. Yet for some inexplicable reason, I can’t seem to forget her. What should I do?

Need Input even Cruel to be Kind

Dear NICK,

DTMFA.

I’m in love with a guy with a total martyr complex. It’s always about what other people need, never about himself — or more importantly, me.  Somehow his acting honorably towards others always seems to involve lying to me and devaluing our relationship. I could never stop loving him, yet I keep doing terrible things to him out of my anger. Do you think we have a chance?

A Love In eXcess

Dear ALIX,

Why not — you deserve each other.

This is one of the most infuriating pairs of lovers I’ve ever encountered in a romance. Sure I love angst, but when there’s no reason for it other than people being ridiculous assholes, it loses a lot of its pleasure.

Alix decides she needs to “save” Nick Anderson when she’s only eight years old. He’s poor and neglected, but though everyone else in town looks down upon the Andersons, she can tell that he’s a fine person inside. Alix’s respectable and comfortable family willingly adopt Nick as a family friend, and try to protect him from his abusive father. The fly in this comfy ointment is Lindsey, another little girl Nick has a mysterious bond with.

As Nick and Alix grow older, their friendship grows into passionate love, but he continues to spend time with Lindsey, for reasons he’s not able to explain. When Alix gets fed up of sneaking around and insists he make a choice between them, all hell breaks loose.

As you can probably tell, Alix bugged me the most of the two. That’s partially because she’s the narrator, and a rather annoying one. She brought to mind the beginning of Edward Eager’s The Well-Wishers: “I know people who say they can read any kind of book except an ‘I’ book… the kind where somebody tells the story and it starts out, ‘Little did I think when I first saw the red house how large it would loom in my life.’ And later on, the person sees a sinister stranger digging a grave in the garden and he says, ‘if I had only remembered to telephone the police next morning, seven murders might have been averted.'” The Sweet Gum Tree is the I book to end all I books; the ultimate result is more to dissipate suspense than to create it.

Alix also pissed me off because she never, ever stops to think about the differences between her life and Lindsey’s. Lindsey is just an obstacle to her; the fact that Alix has family, money, brains, and opportunities and Lindsey has nothing will never be permitted to intrude into her personal pity party. And she’s just inexcusably clueless about what’s really going on. I did start to feel more kindly towards Alix near the end of the book, where she shows considerably more self-awareness than Nick, who merely wallows in guilt.

I think the problem overall is that both Alix and Nick make life-changing decisions when they’re quite young, and then they seem to get stuck there. Although theoretically both make successful adult lives for themselves, emotionally they never seem to move past the mistakes of their younger selves. Nick continues to be self-sacrificing; Alix continues to be clueless and resentful.

It’s a page-turner for sure, but not the tear-jerker I was expecting. Unless you count tears of rage.

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