Even without perusing the back cover or the synopsis of Michael Devendorf’s DECIDUOUS, from the first chapter readers will already know that the protagonist Sienna is at the funeral of her son Kai, only ten months after she buried another teenage daughter, Kira. All of this is presented on the first two pages–which are the best proof of Devendorf’s talent as a storyteller. Even though the reader knows that her two children are dead and Sienna is very much alive, the author manages to keep things interesting for another 43 chapters (and 300 pages), telling a story that chronologically happened just before Kai’s funeral, exploring the past of Sienna and her husband Jordan–how they met, the secrets in their past, and the two tragedies that took place in such a short time span.
DECIDUOUS resembles the best of Stephen King, especially his work from the 1980s. When the protagonist begins to suspect that a century-old tree in the backyard may be responsible for the death of her children, the story enters the field of horror fantasy. There’s even a menace that spans generations, like “It”, since the mystery involves a treehouse built by Sienna’s husband when he was a child. As soon as the author establishes the possibility of a supernatural threat, in the form of a giant tree, the reader is immediately seduced by the concept. Yes, it sounds absurd and maybe familiar (read M.R. James’s ghost story “The Ash-Tree”, or see William Friedkin’s film “The Guardian”). But at the same time, readers will be intrigued by how this unexpected menace will be developed – and how Sienna will be able to convince the skeptical people around her (the husband, the police) that it’s real.
Unfortunately, the conclusion of DECIDUOUS is a little frustrating. The author begins to resort to plot twists that try to replace a supernatural concept for a more realistic and physical threat. He uses most of the book to present an absurd but interesting idea, but then he seems to suddenly regret it and desperately tries to return to “real life” in the final act, which may leave some readers feeling cheated. Otherwise the story manages to perfectly balance drama and mystery with some touches of horror and fantasy (there are, of course, nightmares and hallucinations along the way). There are even lyrical similes: a loose coat that resembles “a tiny piece of chewed bubble gum”, the police tape carried by the wind “like a kite’s tail”, and so on. Although some things are resolved too easily, Devendorf keeps the reader’s attention from the first page to the last.
Michael Devendorf’s DECIDUOUS manages to perfectly balance drama and mystery with touches of horror and fantasy in a book that suggests the skills of a veteran storyteller.
~Felipe M. Guerra for IndieReader