Tepper's _The Family Tree_, with some angry spoilers

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue Apr 16 01:41:02 EDT 2002

On Fri, 5 Apr 2002 17:36:41 +0800, Anita Graham wrote:

>> On Sun, 10 Mar 2002 22:13:02 +0800, Anita Graham wrote:
>> >Melissa, have you read "The Family Tree" by Sherri Tepper? I've read your
>> >explanations of "cheating" meaning that the author had to use a
>> particular
>> >technique to achieve her ends. Did Tepper do the same in "The
>> Family Tree"?

I stopped reading before I got to the big revelation, so I can't say.  I'm
beginning to be more convinced by Hallie's point that it's all about
individual perceptions and reaction, because I've been reading reviews of
_The Family Tree_ that vary widely over whether it was cheating or not.  I
still think it's dicey to depend on a hidden surprise to keep your novel
going, but since I haven't reached the end and probably never will, I can't
comment on whether that's the case with this book.  It sounds like I
probably would call it cheating.  But I am widely known to be annoyingly
pedantic about such matters.  :)

I also disliked having to read the Opalears/'future' sections.  Never mind
about whether or not they matter to one another eventually (which I knew
they would) because I don't have a problem with that device in general.
It's just that when one section is an SF mystery, and the other is a quest
fantasy, it's like having to read two completely different books at the same
time.  Had they really been two separate novels, I would have liked them
both.  But I wasn't in the mood for the fantasy, and I found myself wanting
to skim ahead through those parts.

>I'm not sure I've read "Singer from the Sea" (titles change sometimes), but
>I know what you mean. There are quite a few of Tepper's books I haven't got
>into because the all-out cruelty was just horrible. However, "The Family
>Tree"  doesn't have any truly mean and horrible males torturing women.
>I think Tepper must have back-pedalled a bit on her heavy message - although
>there's a message in this one all right.


Oh, well, I just got to the part about BABIES BEING EATEN BY TREES and so
forth.  Over-population is bad, trees are good, and any people who have more
than one child should just be forced not to have any more of them, because
obviously they are too stupid to understand about birth control and couldn't
possibly have enough love for all those little sprogs.  And the suburbs
should be absorbed because, hey, that's where all the people with large
families live.  And let's make sure they can't drive their minivans into the
city, because mass transit is just morally better for you.

I tried, really I did.  But I have four kids.  The idea that two of
them--the two little blond ones with big blue eyes, no less--might be
absorbed by some snotty overintelligent plant is just a little more
disbelief than I can suspend.  That Tepper's characters dismiss this turn of
events as no more terrible than "a bunch of hysterical parents" is obscene.
I hope I *never* reach the point where I see plant life as morally
equivalent to human life.  I don't care how gentle the stupid plants are and
how peacefully the babies die.  It's almost as bad as the euthanasia scene
in _Jinian Star-eye_.

I should have known things would get hairy when she declared at the
beginning that being the oldest of nine children pretty much guaranteed you
wouldn't ever be baby-hungry.  Maybe she should have actually consulted with
people who come from large families before making that generalization.
(Like, for example, me.)  Dora Henry's problem wasn't being the oldest of
nine; it was being forced to raise all her siblings and then being
ensorcelled into a loveless marriage.  Like that's going to make you want to
create a family of your own.  The implication that all people who have more
than two children do so out of stupidity, selfishness or lust is extremely
offensive to me, and I do not offend easily.

Sure, it's not as heavy-handed as some of her other novels.  It is still a
tract for her personal beliefs about the universe, which happen to be
diametrically opposed to mine.  What really grates is that all her recent
novels about the environment suggest that there are only two ways to look at
conservation: her way, or raping pillaging deforesting and polluting the
earth.  It makes me want to litter just to spite her.  Kirkus Reviews refers
to _The Family Tree_ as "her latest consciousness-raising venture," and
that's so accurate I want to scream.  I'm plenty conscious enough already,

I hate that Tepper finds it necessary to write novels like this.  I was
drawn in immediately by the mystery of *why* Dora would marry Jared and
*where* did the weird family go after their house burned down and *who* was
the girl Jared married anyway?  She has an incredible talent for building a
mystery (which also makes me wonder if the "amazing plot twist" is so
necessary, because I was already engrossed in the novel) and for creating
vivid physical settings.  Living in the desert as I do, I still could
practically smell the forest springing up around Dora's house.  (I just
typed "hosue" for "house" just then.  Shades of Thomas Lynn.)  But in the
end it simply goes to serve her agenda.  It's so sad.

Anita, I am glad for your recommendation.  I hope you liked the book better
than I did.  I'm glad I read as much as I did, but I am probably never going
to read another of her books again.

Melissa Proffitt
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