Christian Fiction Books Reviews

Trees Gets Lost in Literary Genres

  • Susan Ellingburg Contributing Writer
  • 2011 24 Oct
<i>Trees</i> Gets Lost in Literary Genres

Author: Susan Meissner
Title: A Sound Among the Trees
Publisher: WaterBrook Press

There’s no place quite like Holly Oak. A Virginia antebellum mansion, it retains the charm and elegance of a bygone era. Mind you, Civil War charm may not be all it retains. Rumor has it the house is haunted. Or maybe it’s just cursed . . . or maybe the house is just holding a grudge against its women. It’s hard to tell, but one thing’s for sure. New bride Marielle better figure it out before whatever it is goes after her.

Not quite a ghost story, not quite a romance, not quite a historical—A Sound Among the Trees suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. On the one hand, its prose flows along like the Potomac, carrying the reader from chapter to chapter with ease. On the other hand, the focus jumps so from Marielle to her husband’s grandmother-in-law Adelaide (it’s complicated) to Adelaide’s great-grandmother Susannah that it’s hard to know where one’s sympathies lie. Complicating matters is Marielle’s husband’s first (late) wife, Sara. She doesn’t quite haunt the halls of Holly Oak, but her presence is felt in every room.

The addition of a “clairvoyant” friend of a friend to the mix only makes things worse. She feels “something” at Holly Oak, which may or may not be the ghost of Susannah, who may or may not have been a Union spy back in the Civil War. (I said it was complicated, remember?) All will eventually be (more or less) revealed, but the journey to the truth is a long and winding one. It’s never dull, though, and will keep you turning pages even when the whole “haunted” thing gets old.

Meissner is fabulous at setting the stage, with the result that Holly Oak overshadows its inhabitants. (Perhaps that’s by design?) Marielle seems like a nice girl, but I had trouble keeping her in focus. Her relationship with her new husband felt awfully bland, but then, so did he. Adelaide was much more interesting, but she was so bound up in her superstition that it got cramped inside her head. By the time we finally meet the much-ballyhooed Susannah—whose narrative takes up the last third of the book—I’m afraid all the talk of being in touch with the “spirit world” had me in a bad mood. (My fault, no doubt, for expecting more of a Christian worldview from an author who doubles as a pastor’s wife and ministry leader.)

Susannah’s story is a good one, too, so it’s a shame to keep it at bay for so long. Told via Susannah’s letters to a Yankee cousin, it’s a tale of young love in a world at war and the hard choices that must be made when lives are at stake.

When all’s said and done will the house get what it wants? Maybe. Will the reader? Possibly. I didn’t find A Sound Among the Trees particularly satisfying, but others may get more out of their time at Holly Oak.