The Ghosts of America’s Past

The Trees
By Percival Everett
309 pp. Graywolf Press. $16.

This is the funniest book I’ve read in YEARS! Yes, “The Trees,” a book about the nasty epidemic of American racism, past and present, is hilarious. I’m just as surprised as you are.

I’ve seen this one on bookshop shelves for the past year, read the write-up on the back, and not gone for it because the murder mystery genre isn’t really my thing, a few trips to Scandinavia aside. But when “The Trees” found itself shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize, I got curious. A murder mystery nominated for one of the most prestigious literary prizes? What’s going on?

What’s going on, I initially thought, must then be related to the book’s subject matter. Another critically acclaimed, prize-winning novel about America’s racist past (and present)? It’s almost a cliché at this point. Some are good, but some have almost certainly been promoted because of their subject matter. Others, meanwhile, have been almost entirely overlooked because they challenge traditional neoliberal orthodoxy.

James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods was as brilliant and original as Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” was trumpeted as being, but because the former also implicates American capitalism, mass media wasn’t quite as keen on promoting it.

What a pleasant surprise, then, that they’ve done their job here with “The Trees.” This is the best Booker-nominated book I’ve read in a while, and that includes this year’s winner, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, though I very much enjoyed that one as well.

Money, Mississippi, where the main action of the book is set, is one of the best examples of “location as character” you’re likely to find. The town of Money is populated with a cast of vividly real characters, each one as outrageous as the next.

Percival Everett does an amazing job here of illustrating the absurdity of racism and Trumpism, and does so in the most effective way — with mockery. It’s one of my favorite books of 2022 and deserves the widest possible readership.


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