Book Review: A Crooked Tree

Image of A Crooked Tree: A Novel

A Crooked Tree: Una Mannion, Release Date: January 5, 2021, Publisher/Imprint: Harper, Reviewed by: Claire Fullerton

A Crooked Tree is a sonorous ode to youth with all its innocence, angst, disillusionment, and unfiltered honesty. Author Una Mannion tells a coming-of-age story in its full expression as told by clear-eyed, 15-year-old Libby Gallagher, the third of five siblings born to a family most would call dysfunctional, yet with Mannion’s deft handling, we experience the family as normal; we accept as plausible the frame of reference in this heart-tugging cause and effect story.

 It is the early 1980s. The five Gallagher siblings, whose ages span a decade, jostle, and spar with each other in the back seat, while their distracted mother is behind the wheel, on the eve of summer vacation. It is coming dusk as they drive home to bucolic Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge Mountain, and divorced mother, Faye, has had enough. Twelve-year-old Ellen tests Faye’s last nerve by giving her lip, and in a stunning fit of pique, Faye stops the car and demands that Ellen get out. Libby recounts what becomes the pivotal, repercussive scene, “We were still five or six miles from home. I hadn’t said anything to make my mother stop. We careened down the road, went through the covered bridge, past farmland, and fences. Beside us, the shadows of dogwoods blurred in the dark as my mother kept driving.”

See Full Review Here:

a book review by Claire Fullerton: A Crooked Tree: A Novel (nyjournalofbooks.com)

Una Mannion’s debut novel A Crooked Tree will be published by Faber and Faber in the UK and Ireland and by Harper Collins in the US in 2021. It will also be published in Germany with Steidl publishing house and in Italy by Astoria.

Una has won numerous prizes for her short fiction and poetry including The Hennessy New Irish Writing Poetry Award, The Cúirt International Short Fiction Award, Doolin short story prize, Ambit fiction award, Allingham short fiction prize among others.

Her work has been published in numerous journals such as Crannóg, The Lonely Crowd, Bare Fiction, Ambit and her stories have been included in recent collections: Galway Stories: 2020 edited by Lisa Frank and Alan McMonagle (April 2020) and The Art of the Glimpse: 100 Irish Short Stories edited by Sinéad Gleeson, (autumn 2020).

Along with writers Louise Kennedy and Eoin McNamee, Una edits The Cormorant, a broadsheet of poetry and prose. She curates The Word, a monthly author series hosted by Sligo Central Library and the BA Writing + Literature at IT Sligo. 

Una is represented by Peter Straus at Rogers, Coleridge & White

Una Mannion

A Funny Thing Happened at a Bookstore

Typically, I let a stranger’s rude behavior slide, but in this case, I’m thinking of options. I’m generally thinking of those bullying type personalities you find positioned before the public, and specifically, a certain independent bookstore owner I happened across yesterday. The question I’m turning over concerns calling this bookstore owner on his behavior, lest, in my negligence, he persists in his unseemly rapport with other authors. I’ll set the stage first then tell what transpired:

Because I am twenty-one days into evacuation, due to the fires in Malibu ( currently all power is off in my side of town), I have been staying in Santa Barbara, California. Never one to be completely deterred by unanticipated circumstances, and seeing as how it is a scant six months after the release of my 4X, award-winning novel, Mourning Dove, I decided to use my time wisely by visiting the Santa Barbara Public Library and all area bookstores in what was basically a cold call to introduce Mourning Dove. Authors do well in introducing themselves to bookstore owners if they’re prepared with their one-sheet; ISBN; book description; and distribution information. I’m happy to report I’ve had great luck in so doing. It’s led to scheduled events and my book on the shelves. After all, one hand shakes the other in the book business. We are nothing without each other. This is what I was thinking as I entered this particular bookstore, and discovered the owner standing behind the counter.

It was raining in Santa Barbara, which, in Southern California, is always a conversation starter, and which explained why my one-sheet was a bit damp. I told the owner I am a local, traditionally published author of three books, represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Literary Agency. Having researched his bookstore online to discover he carries “new, used, and out-of-print books,” and that they carry books by local authors, I told him I wanted to introduce myself and Mourning Dove. For a few minutes, we discussed the weather, the fires in Malibu, the potential threat of mud-slides, then he cast his eyes on my one-sheet. “This book just won the Literary Classics Words on Wings Award for Book of the Year,” I added, to which he abruptly turned, squared his shoulders and looked me in the eyes. “I’ll stop you right here,” he barked. “I’m not going to buy your book.”

Now then, I’ll digress by mentioning I am a Southerner. We’re big on manners. To a Southerner, there is no more egregious sin than bad manners. And for some reason, I was so startled I reverted to my Southern upbringing and perfunctorily cushioned his blow, in an effort at not leaving on a bad note. “Perhaps I wasn’t clear on your bookstore’s policy,” I offered. “What kind of books do you carry?” His answer–and I’m paraphrasing, was along the lines of you better be Faulkner of a current NY Times bestseller. “You’ve explained yourself clearly,” I said. His reply? “I’ve been DEALING with authors for 40 years.”

I’m going to share a quote by Mya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I’ve been thinking about this episode since it happened yesterday, wondering if I have the right take on it; if I’m too sensitive, judgemental, egoistic, and on and on, though I’m not one to second-guess myself. Plain and simple, when I left the bookstore, I felt diminished. Maybe I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, had he not issued the closing remark of “… dealing with authors for 40 years.”  What this tells me is this bookstore owner thinks its okay to treat authors with such a sorry case of bed-side manners. So much for one hand shaking the other in the book business… In weighing all this, I’ve examined a list of what he could have said, and the whole thing would have happened differently: “Thank you for coming in, this doesn’t sound like something I carry,” this kind of thing.

Now I’m wondering how many authors this man has similarly treated. I’m wondering if any author has ” called him on his stuff,” and concluding probably not.” What occurs to me is that, when in such a quandary, we always have options. In this case, is it better to leave the man to his own devices, or ” call him on his stuff?”