Excerpt from Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Harry's Trees

by Jon Cohen

Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen X
Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen
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  • Published:
    Jun 2018, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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5

One year after Beth died, Harry received a phone call from God.

One year had passed, four gray, indistinguishable seasons, and Harry had missed not a single day of work, because what was he going to do at home? Home: the place where he ate peanut butter on stale crackers and fell asleep in the wingback chair beside the fireplace that still contained the half-charred log that Beth had tossed onto the grate the night before she was killed. Harry would lurch awake, rise stiffly, shower or not shower and drive to work before dawn.

Really, was there a better way to punish himself? He would work for the Forest Service until he was sixty-five. No, the way the world was going they'd keep raising the age of retirement—he'd work until he was seventy, eighty, ninety. Perfect. Decade upon decade, clacking away on his keyboard until his heart sputtered out, his corpse sitting there for years, no one noticing the gnarled finger frozen above the delete key.

Sometimes he'd screw up and it would be a Saturday or Sunday. Didn't matter. He'd pull into the parking lot of the suburban headquarters of the Northern Research Station of the USDA Forest Service, park in the paved-over spot where the eastern hemlock had once stood, lug himself up the back stairwell to the third floor, then drop into his chair like a sack of sand and start right in on the reports: rangeland management, forest resource utilization, sustainable harvest, regulatory policy, ecoregional protocol monitoring. He took on all the worst assignments, the deadliest of the deadly dull, day in and day out, rolling the bureaucratic shit ball uphill like a Saharan dung beetle.

Even Bob Jackson, who dodged, whined, griped and shirked his way through every workday, felt a smirking pity whenever he emailed Harry a huge batch of files or plopped a fresh stack of fat folders onto his desk.

"Christ, Harry, you're allowed to, like, get up and take a leak once in a while, you know." Bob bit off a sliver of fingernail and swallowed it like an egret gulping a minnow.

How pathetic to be pitied by Bob Jackson, a creature who chewed his nails to slimy nubs, picked his nose with the insouciance of a three-year-old and used spit to finger-smooth the four hairs of his comb-over. But the life-form that was Bob no longer rankled Harry, nor did Harry notice the widening ring of cubicles around him that had gone vacant as his fellow workers jockeyed for less psychologically intense office real estate. Who wanted to sit near a black hole, to be vortexed into that? Sure, the guy's wife had died in a spectacular freak accident but, yikes. And although no one actually said it—the upside? Shell-shocked Harry Crane was a bottomless dumpster for crappy assignments. Forest initiatives, SOPA reports? NFS studies, FSI summaries, process predicament reviews? Turf 'em to The Widower!

Harry's relentless dedication impressed his boss, Irv Mickler, who promoted him from a GS 12 to a GS 13. Over the thirty-eight years of his own government career, Irv had sacrificed a not inconsiderable portion of his mind to the intricate convolutions of USDA red tape and most of his eyesight to its small print, so he understood the value of hard work.

Irv blinked behind thick glasses, leaning in for a long squint at Harry's ID badge. Harry could see Irv's dry, pale lips moving as he read. Irv looked up. "So. Harry Crane. You're certainly the engine that keeps this office forward-moving. Harry. Crane."

Irv reached out to pat Harry's shoulder but stopped a millimeter short. Even addled and half-blind, Irv could perceive Harry's consumingly desolate aura. Irv drew back and cleared his throat.

"I should get back to work," Harry said.

"Yes, right, good idea," Irv replied, leaning out of his doorway to watch until Harry was safely out of sight.

Excerpted from Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen. Copyright © 2018 by Jon Cohen. Excerpted by permission of Mira. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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