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The Killing Tree    by Rachel Keener order for
Killing Tree
by Rachel Keener
Order:  USA  Can
Center Street, 2009 (2009)
* * *   Reviewed by Pat Elliott

Mercy is eighteen years old. She is a waitress at a BBQ restaurant, one of three in Crooktop. She lives on Crooked Top Mountain with her crazy grandma, Momma Rutha, and her religiously fanatic grandfather, Father Heron. Although Mercy graduated from high school, she knows her future is at Crooktop's BBQ restaurant where Father Heron has decided she must marry the manager, Rusty.

Mercy is tied to the small house on Crooked Top Mountain where she grew up. She is required to help with the garden and animals and she must follow Father Heron's rules without question. When Mercy was growing up she was left to fend for herself because sometimes Momma Rutha remembered to feed her and wash her clothes for school but more often, Momma Rutha was standing naked in the garden singing to the trees. Now Mercy brings their food from the BBQ joint.

Mercy's one friend, Della, follows in her mother's footsteps, using sexuality to gain money and friends. Marcy hardly knows anything about sex but clings to Della because they are both alone and looked down on by the narrow minded citizens of Crooktop. Beaten down and oppressed by her environment, Mercy sees no future but a continuation of the present, although she does save spare money in a jelly jar hidden in the back of the closet.

Mercy's life and outlook is changed when she meets Trout, a seasonal worker who picks tomatoes. Mater migrants are looked down on even more than Mercy and Della. Mercy, who has never known a loving gentle touch from anyone, falls head over heels in love with Trout and he with her. But Father Heron will not allow her to be involved with a mater migrant. So Mercy and Trout enjoy the simple pleasures where they find them, in the streams and forests of her mountain home.

This excellent book is about a mountain girl who matures in her love for a gentle man to the point that she can confront her grandfather and demand answers about her mother. She gains the courage to leave Crooktop and make a life for herself. Father Heron, a hard, cruel man is brought to his knees by a woman he can no longer control and intimidate. And Momma Rutha is free to return to her beloved mountain, where she is not considered crazy but is honored as a healer.

Keener uses mountain vernacular, superstitions and the storied life of the mountain people of West Virginia to craft a beautiful story of a girl growing up, finding her true love and starting a family with him. In Mercy, the reader finds insight into another world, where people live simply, where prejudice is rife, and mistaken ideas make a small girl's life a living hell. The Killing Tree is about love and loyalty and overcoming hard things in life.

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