THE TREES – Percival Everett

My fifth read of the 2022 Booker Prize longlist was Percival Everett’s The Trees (Graywolf Press 2021).  I read it in two days, devouring each hilarious and devastatingly brutal word. I didn’t have a funny novel about lynchings and racism on my bingo card but thank goodness the Booker longlist put this novel in front of me; it’s a belly laugh and a “fuck all y’all” in the same breath.  Kill Bill meets Jordan Peele barely scratches the surface of what the experience of reading this novel is.

I live not far from where the woman who falsely accused Emmett Till currently resides. While I was reading this novel, the grand jury declined to indict her on the warrant that was recently found. What does that have to do with Everett’s novel?  Everything.

Set in racist Money, Mississippi, the novel opens at Carolyn Bryant’s home.  It’s 2018, and she’s having some regrets.  Then the murders start. With each white body, the body of a Black man who looks eerily like Emmett Till is found.  The black body keeps disappearing only to show up at another murder. Two detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation are brought in to investigate. The town isn’t exactly welcoming to the two Black detectives, and they really don’t like it when the Black woman FBI agent shows up.  But there are murders to solve and bodies to find.

But it’s not just Money.  Across the US, racists are being murdered. And the bodies of long dead people of color are found with them. It’s not just retribution for the murder of Emmett Till – it’s retribution for the murder of all those who were lynched.  While the dark comedy of a revenge fantasy carries the novel, the pages listing the names of lynched suck the air from the room.  It’s a plot point that feeds into the fantasy, but these are real names.  Real people.  It’s a stark reminder of a bloody history.

“When I write the names they become real, not just statistics. When I write the names they become real again. It’s almost like they get a few more seconds here.  Do you know what I mean? I would never be able to make up this many names. The names have to be real. They have to be real. Don’t they?… When I’m done, I’m going to erase every name, set them free.” 

“Carry on, child,” the old woman said.

This novel isn’t for everyone. It’s bloody and gruesome. It’s extremely dark humor centered on black trauma and racism.  But what a brilliant and blazing novel of revenge it is.

Read this book.

Booker count: 5 of 13

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