The Trees | Percival Everett

Books | Review

historical fiction | satire | booker prize | race | mystery

First published 2021

Paperback book of Percival Everett's novel, The Trees, lying on blue fabric

In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched after a white woman accused him of making lewd comments. The accuser, Carolyn Bryant, owned a grocery store in Money, Mississippi. Till was visiting relatives and happened to be in the store. He was accused of touching and flirting with Bryant, breaking the unwritten Jim Crow-era rules about black men interacting with white women. Bryant's husband Roy and his half-brother, J.W. Milam went to the house where Till was staying, abducted him, beat and mutilated him before shooting him and dumping his body in the Tallahatchie River.

The book opens with a very old Carolyn Bryant, known as Granny C, expressing remorse for her past actions: "I wronged that little pickaninny." Her son Wheat and her nephew, Junior Junior are found dead. Brutally disfigured, their genitals cut off, the body of a mutilated young black man lies beside them. This body disappears, only to reappear as more and more of Money's white residents are found dead, especially those with links to the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups.

When this phenomenon is repeated across the country, with dead white people turning up next to long-dead black and Asian men, law enforcement is brought in. Ed and Jim of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and Herbie Hind of the FBI are all black officers investigating this bizarre series of murders. This book is less about solving a mystery. It is more about the greater crime: the lack of due process for past crimes.

The mastermind is Mama Z, a 105-year-old survivor of the town who has recorded every single lynching since 1913, when her own father was lynched in a racist attack. As more and more of the lynched dead rise up, panic spreads across the nation. 

My Verdict: What a novel! The supernatural element is used as a tool to depict the African American experience, much like the film Get Out. The language that Everett uses may make some readers cringe or feeling uncomfortable (that's the point!), but nothing is used without a reason. No word is wasted. This is one of the smartest satires I've read since Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo. Its critique of racism in America and the injustice within law enforcement is palpable. This is a funny, scary, dark and very angry book that should be read by all!

Review Award | 5/5

Posted 17.05.2023

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