A KEY TO TREE­HOUSE LIV­ING

El­liot Reed, Tin House Books (SEPTEM­BER) Hard­cover $19.95 (170pp), 978-1-947793-04-0

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight | Debut Fiction - MEG NOLA

In El­liot Reed’s cap­ti­vat­ing A Key to Tree­house Liv­ing, Wil­liam Tyce nar­rates the un­usual and per­son­al­ized glos­sary of his trou­bled young life. Wil­liam was aban­doned by his par­ents and trans­ferred to the cus­tody of an ec­cen­tric un­cle. When his un­cle’s be­hav­ior sends him to prison, Wil­liam, now in his teens, again finds him­self aban­doned and left to nav­i­gate the some­times won­drous, some­times un­sa­vory world at large.

Reed deftly ad­vances Wil­liam’s story along with an al­pha­bet­i­cal list, such as the ear­lier BABY MEM­O­RIES, which iron­i­cally “don’t ex­ist,” to the XYLOPHONE, HOME­MADE that Wil­liam sees an­other pris­oner solemnly play­ing when he vis­its his un­cle in jail. In be­tween are var­i­ous other brief, im­pres­sion­is­tic en­tries, each clar­i­fy­ing a new el­e­ment of Wil­liam’s un­set­tled ex­is­tence.

Wil­liam’s voice is ap­peal­ingly and al­ter­nately street­wise, po­etic, comic, melan­choly, and con­fused. He en­coun­ters the crazily charis­matic drifter El Hon­dero at the pub­lic li­brary, con­tem­plates clouds of yel­low but­ter­flies or snap­ping tur­tles that can “rip through a bi­cep,” and sails away on a makeshift raft to es­cape be­ing a ward of the state. Find­ing food like ed­i­ble mush­rooms and stay­ing afloat be­come pri­mal ne­ces­si­ties, with the oc­ca­sional com­pan­ion­ship of a mys­te­ri­ous blind white river rat. Cer­tain peo­ple can be help­ful—or at least en­ter­tain­ing—while oth­ers are un­re­li­able or ex­ploita­tive.

Through its de­cep­tively sim­ple struc­ture, A Key to Tree­house Liv­ing cre­ates a por­trait of a com­pelling, per­cep­tive ado­les­cent who keeps slip­ping through so­ci­ety’s cracks, ei­ther due to cir­cum­stances or of his own vo­li­tion. By the novel’s end, Wil­liam is still trou­bled and at risk, but with the hope that per­haps his cu­ri­ous re­silience will help him keep adding to the glos­sary of his dis­tinc­tive al­pha­bet.

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