The Rowan Tree, by Robert W. Fuller
First novels can be exciting events. In the innocence of that initial effort, sometimes great things happen between the book covers. In the case of The Rowan Tree, Fuller creates charming, flawed, well-meant characters, characters that stick to your consciousness like postal tape.
He begins with an idealistic, young white college president named Rowan Ellway and a younger black student, Easter Blue. There’s romance afoot between the two, something that must remain hidden. Ellway is one of those intellectual types that must move from discipline to discipline, and he leaves the college presidency, eventually becoming an expert on nuclear arms and disarmament. Meanwhile Easter’s pursuits lead her to Africa.
Years later, the pair reunite, and there are children, Marisol and Adam, added to the quickly growing cast of characters. Are they the children of Rowan and Easter, or is the parentage more complex?
At this point, Fuller allows his central characters, Rowan and Easter, to fade into the background as Adam, Marisol, and their paramours take center stage. There are long passages of travel, vaguely rationalized, but quite often beautifully written. There are embryonic careers and marriages that proceed almost without conflict until near book’s end, when the characters’ subterranean complexities are bared. But that’s all right; everyone is very, very mature and these complexities are handled in the most mature manner possible.
At book’s end Fuller adds a long passage, journaled by Adam, who is now president of the U.S., in which he’s promoting a pet idea of Fuller, the dignity project and an urge to overcome something he calls rankism. But don’t worry; Fuller explains these ideas in extreme detail.
What Fuller doesn’t yet understand is that there’s an ethos to writing novels, too, and to use that literary form purely to promote intellectual and political pursuits is a bastardization of the form. However, he shows talent and native ability in fiction writing, and one would hope he learns more about the novel’s state before chancing another 500 page tome.
My rating: 12 of 20 stars
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