Written by: Matt Molgaard
I’ll openly confess my reluctance to jump into Michael Phillip Cash’s novella, The Hanging Tree. I just wrapped David Bernstein’s Witch Island, which is basically the exact same idea we’re dealt in this instance: a witch executed by a hellish mob places a curse on those who killed her – as well as their bloodlines – ultimately haunting a specific piece of land directly related to the execution. While Bernstein’s book did entertain, it was purely paint by the numbers, predictable in every sense imaginable. To call it less than creative is somewhat generous. From the outside looking in, Cash’s tale offered a carbon copy product. Fortunately for those who find witch stories endearing, Michael’s a bit more complex with his thought process, in the end delivering far more wrinkles in his story.
The center piece of The Hanging Tree is an actual tree, as indicated by the title. But it isn’t the tree itself that truly delivers the chills, and it isn’t the tree in which the reader finds him or herself entangled (though many, in the story, have indeed found themselves hanging from the seemingly sinister sapling), it’s the personalities of living individuals and an assortment of souls confined to the titular fixture that really move the narrative forward.
The manner in which Cash layers his story is extremely impressive. Rather than heading south in order to get south, Cash navigates his vehicle through a myriad of twists and turns before depositing the reader at the intended destination. And it works like a charm. The characters take on life (even those not in possession of a pulse), the story’s intersections gradually meet – creating the idea of honest intricacy, despite the simplistic heart of the matter – and the final payoff differs from the norm, significantly. It’s quite the fulfilling experience.
At the end of the day, the only real faults to find in The Hanging Tree come in the way of a subpar editing job. And believe me when I say the story is engaging enough to look beyond a handful of typos (honestly, what novel doesn’t have at least a few, as it is?). I wouldn’t hope to find myself hanging from any tree, I can tell you that, but Cash’s creepy creation is quite the magnetic experience and I’d recommend The Hanging Tree to anyone interested in a stimulating spin on a familiar anecdote.