Summary and book reviews of Treeborne by Caleb Johnson

Treeborne

by Caleb Johnson

Treeborne by Caleb Johnson X
Treeborne by Caleb Johnson
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  • Published:
    Jun 2018, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat

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About this Book

Book Summary

Treeborne is a celebration and a reminder: of how the past gets mixed up in thoughts of the future; of how home is a story as much as a place.

Janie Treeborne lives on an orchard at the edge of Elberta, Alabama, and in time, she has become its keeper. A place where conquistadors once walked, and where the peaches they left behind now grow, Elberta has seen fierce battles, violent storms, and frantic change - and when the town is once again threatened from without, Janie realizes it won't withstand much more. So she tells the story of its people: of Hugh, her granddaddy, determined to preserve Elberta's legacy at any cost; of his wife, Maybelle, the postmaster, whose sudden death throws the town into chaos; of her lover, Lee Malone, a black orchardist harvesting from a land where he is less than welcome; of the time when Janie kidnapped her own Hollywood-obsessed aunt and tore the wrong people apart.

As the world closes in on Elberta, Caleb Johnson's debut novel lifts the veil and offers one last glimpse.

Stories We Tell
TODAY

The water was coming, but Janie Treeborne would not leave. She'd lived alone in this house perched on the edge of a roadside peach orchard in Elberta, Alabama, ever since Lee Malone sold it to her. Sold maybe not the right word for the price she paid, the price he would take. But it was hers and she would not leave. Rather the water take her too.

She'd been telling her visitor exactly how she came to own the house, which once was Lee's office and, before that, his boyhood home. A complicated matter. To tell how this house and the surrounding property became hers she needed to tell how it became Lee's, and to do that she needed to first tell about a man named Mr. Prince.

"See, back then folks thought Mr. Prince wasn't but a rumor and a last name," she continued. "But he was real. Lived in one of them mansions down on the river. Anyhow, Lee started working at The Peach Pit not long after the storm.

"Worked here for years. Then one day Mr. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. When the novel begins Janie Treeborne is already old. She has finally decided it is time to tell many of her stories. How does Janie's age influence the stories she tells and the ways in which she tells them?
  2. Treeborne is written in a distinct style that relies on a strong vernacular. How do elements of Johnson's writing style evoke the way memory works in life and for characters in the novel? How does the novel's voice impact the way you read and understand its characters?
  3. There is not a central plotline in Treeborne. Instead, Johnson moves around in time and across many different narrative threads. How do characters such as Hugh, Maybelle, and Janie Treeborne change over the course of the book? Can the same be...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

At times Treeborne reads like a Southern Gothic novel by the numbers. This is a book of rattlesnakes and corn liquor, of a cursed backwoods family living on cursed backwater soil. Johnson appears to relish giving voice to the gross and grotesque. As such, a cynical reader may deem much of what's on offer as mere genre box-ticking. Thankfully, Johnson's fecund language – "The Seven more gorgeous than any piece of land she'd ever traipsed." – rooted in an earthy Southern vernacular render these somewhat hackneyed aesthetic points fresh and poetic.   (Reviewed by Dean Muscat).

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Media Reviews

Southern Living (Best New Books Coming Out This Summer)
A story about complicated legacies and the people who bring to life the places we call home.

Kirkus Reviews
A lyrical effusion deeply rooted in place and steeped in quirky characters.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Sentence by loamy sentence, this gifted author digs up corpses and upends trees to create a place laden with magic and memory.

Booklist
Starred Review. Majestic in scope, jam-packed with revelations and a touch of the fantastical, Treeborne is an enthralling story about what binds people together and breaks them apart.

Library Journal
Starred Review. Johnson's gem of a novel tells of a place and its people so vivid and real that readers won't want their stories to end.

Author Blurb Jill McCorkle, New York Times bestselling author of Life After Life
In Treeborne, Caleb Johnson spins an artful, intricate web of a place - its rich history and memorable characters caught and held there by stories told and secrets withheld. Suspenseful and immensely satisfying.

Author Blurb Dana Spiotta, author of Innocents and Others and Stone Arabia
Treeborne is a remarkable first novel: poetic, funny, and populated by particular, fully alive characters. Caleb Johnson has a wonderful ear for the rhythm and diction of Southern voices. He knows how to light on just the right detail of place, time and person. Watching how the intertwined interests of the land, of the past, and of a family play out makes the novel compelling from start to finish.

Author Blurb Daren Wang, author of The Hidden Light of Northern Fires
Caleb Johnson's writing makes you yearn for a place that never was. Elberta, Alabama is so vivid, so alive, you can smell the peaches ripening in the orchard.

Author Blurb Alyson Hagy, author of Boleto

Every now and again a powerful new voice bursts into song and begins to sing stories we can't do without. Caleb Johnson's is such a voice. The characters and desires of Treeborne will wrap themselves around you tighter than any wild vine. And the setting of Elberta, Alabama will call out to you like a long-lost home. This novel is a gripping, entrancing debut by one whirlwind of a writer.

Author Blurb Laird Hunt, author of Neverhome
What a marvel of a novel this is. Treeborne's sentences are taut, its situations engrossing, its characters absolutely and indelibly engaging. Caleb Johnson's debut is a deep-dig, history-rich, story-soaked beauty.

Author Blurb Brad Watson, author of Miss Jane
Caleb Johnson is as much a prophet of his place and time as was Larry Brown of north Mississippi, as Cormac McCarthy of his native Knoxville, Tennessee, Marquez of his homegrown, fictional Macondo. He is 'Treeborne.' This is a novel born of a deep, affectionate, and wise knowledge of a place and its people, its history, and its rich and complicated wildness. And its innate tendency to recognize and heighten the mysterious and strange in the ordinary, everyday. He manipulates and maneuvers narrative masterfully.

Author Blurb Rick Bragg, New York Times bestselling author of My Southern Journey and All Over but the Shoutin'
This boy cannot only write with beauty about how things are in the Deep South, he can write with an eerie feel for the way they used to be. I've heard a lot of great old editors say that you can't teach writing, that it's born. Caleb Johnson can make you believe it.

Author Blurb Daniel Wallace, national bestselling author of Extraordinary Adventures and Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions
I can't remember the last time I read a book I wish so much I'd written. Treeborne is beautiful, and mythic in ways I would never have been able to imagine...I can't say enough about this book.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Drive-In Theaters

Realizing her dreams of becoming a Hollywood actress are dwindling, Tammy Treeborne - a central protagonist in Treeborne - decides to indulge her passion for the movies in another way, by opening her very own drive-in theater in Elberta, Alabama.

A drive-in theater The drive-in theater is an American icon, itself immortalized in countless classic movies (Grease, Twister) and songs (The Beach Boys' Drive-In, David Bowie's Drive-In Saturday).

The first patented drive-in was developed by Richard Hollingshead in New Jersey. It's said that Hollingshead was inspired to develop the idea for a different kind of movie theater to help his mother. As a somewhat large lady, Mrs. Hollingshead found the average indoor cinema seats restrictive and uncomfortable. ...

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