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Shep’s murder sends the Stanley family into a tailspin, with each member attempting to cope with the tragedy in his or her own way. Irene’s approach is to live, week after week, waiting for Daniel Robbin’s execution and the justice she feels she and her family deserve. Those weeks turn into months and then years. Ultimately, faced with a growing sense that Robbin’s death will not stop her pain, Irene takes the extraordinary and clandestine step of reaching out to her son’s killer. The two forge an unlikely connection that remains a secret from her family and friends.
Years later, Irene receives the notice that she had craved for so long—Daniel Robbin has stopped his appeals and will be executed within a month. This announcement shakes the very core of the Stanley family. Irene, it turns out, isn’t the only one with a shocking secret to hide. As the execution date nears, the Stanleys must face difficult truths and find a way to come to terms with the past.
Dramatic, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting, The Crying Tree is an unforgettable story of love and redemption, the unbreakable bonds of family, and the transformative power of forgiveness.
I didn’t want to read The Crying Tree this summer. For one thing, I was busy with a book of my own coming out in just a few months. I was intrigued, though, because I thought the plot sounded similar to my own 2004 novel, Cage of Stars, in which there also is a crime that not even a mother--or perhaps only a mother--could forgive.
I opened the book and read one page. I looked up. Six hours had passed and the story of Irene Stanley and her husband Nate, their murdered son, Shep, and their militant daughter, Bliss, had summited and earned its conclusion. I had fallen so under the spell of Naseem Rakha’s voice and plot that I had lost all track of time. The characters were alive. Their choices were wrenching. Their sins and their ignorance were our own.
The Crying Tree is not perfect. I was able to see the ending coming. But the pace and genuine aspirations of this story were so satisfying that I didn’t mind. The creation of the characters is redemptive and makes me hungry for more words from Rakha. The mother, Irene, is as adoring and blind as any mother, indeed as I am. The father’s hates and fears, his shame, are sadly all too believable.
For her son and her daughter, Irene dares to dream beyond her the blue-collar days in ways Rakha renders with pitch-perfect detail. When she loses her treasured son, she also loses the thread of that dream. Rallying from the bleached and hollow pod she has become to finally claim it again for her surviving child is what finally re-connects her to life--and to a truth that is as inevitable to the reader as it is heartbreaking.
This is a mesmerizing book--one any writer would envy and any reader would love.--Jacquelyn Mitchard
(Photo © Liane R. Harrison)Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Naseem Rakha
Question: How did the idea for the book originate? Had you always been interested in the Death Penalty?
Naseem Rakha: In 2003, I met a woman during a peace rally in my small town of Silverton, Oregon. She had just visited an inmate on San Quentin’s death row—an inmate who, twenty-one years earlier, had been convicted of killing her daughter. For years, she had lived for this man’s death, believing that his execution would end the pain of her loss. What she found, however, was that after ten years of waiting and hating, she had to give it up. She wrote the man and told him she forgave him. That arc, from the most desperate kind of anguish to reconciliation and even love stunned me, and compelled me to explore this journey through The Crying Tree.
Question: As a mother yourself, was it difficult to write from Irene Stanley’s perspective about the death of her child?
Naseem Rakha: Writers of fiction must have empathy—the ability to feel what others feel, and then express those emotions in a way that keep them alive. So yes, feeling Irene’s anguish over her son’s death was difficult, but so was Nate’s anguish, and Daniel’s, and Bliss’s and Tab Mason’s. On the other hand, life also offers us moments of inspiration, joy, and redemption, and as I wrote The Crying Tree, those life-affirming emotions far outweighed the weighty nature of the subject.
Question: Without giving anything away, secrets—Nate’s, Shep’s, Irene’s—are the driving force behind the tragedy in this story. When you first started writing, did you know how the story was going to unfold?
Naseem Rakha: I knew how the story would start, I knew the conflict, and I knew how I wanted the story to end. Everything else was a surprise. Sometimes a very big surprise.
Question: Through your research and writing, has your opinion about the death penalty changed?
Naseem Rakha: I did not write The Crying Tree to make a statement about the Death Penalty. Instead, I wanted people to confront the question of forgiveness. What does it look like, what does it take, and what can it possibly give? Intellectually, I oppose capital punishment. But, if faced with the murder of a loved one, I have no idea if my moral objections would stand up against my desire for vengeance. This is a question one hopes to never face, but perhaps through this book people will think more about their own capacity to live beyond loss.
Question: Who are some of your favorite authors? Were there any books that particularly inspired you to write this novel?
Naseem Rakha: I think of authors like Kent Haruf, who can tell deep stories about ordinary lives. I think of Jane Smiley, and how she brings characters to life through dialogue and setting. I think of Truman Capote and his ability to report an event and make it feel as tangible as knife cutting through a loaf of bread. No one particular novel inspired The Crying Tree, but voices of other authors informed my own writing style.(Photo © Gretchen Dow Mashkuri)
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