The Family Tree, by Sheri Tepper, for Timeslip Tuesday

I was sad to hear that Sheri Tepper had died last week...she was a keystone of my speculative fiction reading in my twenties, and obliged just beautifully with her prolific writing.  As an added bonus, my mother discovered her at the same time I did, so we could share the reading experience.  Not every book was to my taste, but they were all interesting, and some I love.   One of my favorites is The Family Tree (May 1997).  And it is impossible to review the book without spoilers, so I shall start by saying that if you are at all interested in a scenario where nature starts fighting back against late stage capitalism, if you are at all interested in world building that involves very different races coexisting in (more or less peace), and if you are at all interested in books that cannot be reviewed without spoilers, because the moments of Realization are so stunning, then go read this book!  There's also a murder mystery, and it's one of Tepper's funniest books--it makes me chuckle lots and lots.  There's also a nice romance. 

On the other hand, it's a two stories at once book, so you have to bounce between two entirely different sets of characters in two very different places. 

I myself love love love the part of the story set in our world, which tells how nature decides to fight back against suburban sprawl, overpopulation, and the predations of goats on semiarid landscapes.  Dora, the protagonist of this part of the story, decides toward the start of the book to leave her husband, Jared.  The wonder of it is why she married him to begin with--it is not a real marriage in any sense of the word.  The catalyst for her decision is a plant, one that attacks Jared when he tries to kill it, sending him to the hospital.  Dora, on the other hand, has friendly feelings for the plant, and wishes it well (I like a character who says hi to plants).  So she finds a place of her own (she's a police officer, so can afford independence), and when trees start coming up all over, blocking roads and trapping parked cars, and removing parking lots etc., Dora is taken aback, but doesn't feel threatened.

But then she is.

And in the meantime, there's a whole nother story going on at the same time, about a group of diverse inhabitants of another society (sort of medievally in feel) going on a journey to find answers to prophecies and dire warnings.  The trees in this place are not growing every which way, but they have become strangly agitated; they feel a catastrophe is coming.

(mostly when I re-read I follow Dora's story straight through, because I like it better, but don't do this your first time reading because it will mess everything up, even it the non Dora story feels too stereotypically fantasy journey.....).

And then the two stories meet.

(spoilery now)

Spoilers not because I'm going to give everything away, but because the more about the book you know the more likely you are to guess things. 

So you can stop reading now.

The meeting of the two stories involves time travel of a rather unexpected kind, and revelations that there were other stories going on in both places that are rather astounding.

The time travel mechanics are not explained, but simply exist to make the story possible.  The time travel, with its concomitant issues of changes the past, and thereby changing the future, are central to the plot, but not so central to the story of the characters, like Dora, who have to cope with the time travel consequences and who have to try to keep the worst of them from happening.  There is a villain who must be foiled...and a future of diverse peoples to be saved.

So in any event this is my most favorite of Tepper's books, and every time I read it I see more and more clues in her descriptions (and boy, is she careful and cunning!) that once you know what's happening make it even more fun.


  1. This sounds really interesting - I skimmed over the spoilery parts but should come back after I read the book.

  2. The first Tepper book I read was GRASS, followed rapidly by AFTER LONG SILENCE and then THE GATE TO WOMEN'S COUNTRY. I tried Jinian Footseer series and Mavin the Manyshaped, but I preferred her science fiction to her fantasy or horror. Now I discover she also wrote under a pseudonym and I'm all kinds of horrified I never knew...

    I really loved GIBBONS DECLINE AND FALL, and just felt so smart reading it. (Also, in the days before Harry Potter, how smart did I look carrying around that tome??), but my favorite, favorite, favorite was indeed THE FAMILY TREE. It is hilarious, in that restrained Tepper fashion, and I love it.

    I also see that BEAUTY was marketed in paperback for YA. I should review that, when the Cybils madness is over... AND I plan to reread this all, again, when the Cybils madness is over...

    But, I should have known you loved Sherri Tepper, too. Of course you do. All the best people do.

  3. I keep meaning to read this. I need to find time for her in general!

  4. THE FAMILY TREE is my favourite Tepper book, too! The ending shocked me so much (in a good way), that I had to go back and read the whole thing again from the beginning. I'm really sorry to hear that she died.

  5. You had me at the book title, Charlotte! I browsed my brother's bookshelves on my last trip out west and came across "The Family Tree." It wasn't what I was in the mood for at the time (needed a quick, easy read), but I was enchanted by the quirkiness. So I stole it with permission and it's on my end table, waiting for me to have time to read slowly and enjoy. Thanks for the recommendation (and validation of my choice!).


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