Jove, $6.99, ISBN 0-515-12904-6
Contemporary Romance, 2000
When 16-year old Caleb DeWilde committed suicide, his family is left to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives. Meg DeWilde becomes obsessed in her grief to seek answers as to why her son would take his own life. Jack, her husband, wants nothing more to move forward in life, and he hides a sharp guilt because when Caleb died, he was – well, that’s a pivotal plot point (suffice to say readers who insists their characters adhere to their wedding vows would throw this book across the room). Bethany, the daughter, starts her rebellion in her confusion, grief, and fear.
Welcome to Dee Holmes’s The Caleb Trees.
Why would a happy, popular, and well-adjusted boy kill himself? This is the question all three DeWildes have to face, and to do so, they have to face all that is going wrong with their lives.
This is a very difficult book to get into, mainly because it displays a paradoxical incongruity: while it doesn’t romanticize the stress and pain of having to deal with life after the afterglow of marriage fades, it can’t help but to make Caleb a martyr, a glorified martyr, whom in memory takes on a halo. I feel rather uneasy at the whole angle that it takes a boy’s death to change the lives of the others for the better.
I know, I can see this story also as one where people survives pain to be stronger. But it’s difficult, because initially Meg and Jack are rigid, unbending people who refuse to admit that their lives aren’t perfect. Meg eventually unbends, and she truly becomes stronger for it – it is she who keeps this story from drowning in Hallmark sentimentality. Jack is more problematic, half the time he seems more intent on covering his sorry backside, the other half he is in denial.
And I am less than pleased with the resolution, which is a bit too much of a TV movie of the week thing.
With all the gritty pain and heartbreaks yet never letting me to actually feel any catharsis, The Caleb Trees is probably a bit too close to reality for me. Give me suicide, give me adultery, give me financial difficulties in my fiction, but please, give me catharsis too.