Lengthy Tale of Two Siblings Fails to Deliver the Goods
A Family Tree, Taking Root
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by Doc Robertson
Format: Hardcover, 715pp
Pub. Date: February 2000
Reviewed by Thumper
A Family Tree, Taking Root by Doc Robertson is an enjoyable, refreshing novel
that should have read like a dream. While many of our authors insist on writing
the pseudo-family dramas starring the ever-present three-sista girlfriends, it
was a delight to finally read a family drama featuring a real family. The family
fights, the bent relationships, misunderstandings that with time become harder
to resolve are all here in their messy glory. Although the novel contains a
number of missteps, a few loose ends, and a second half that lacked the care and
attention of the first half, A Family Tree, Taking Root has a strong family
storyline and a nice rhythm.
A Family Tree, Taking Root begins with thirteen year old Virginia Robinson, (age 13) and her brother Roman (age 11) are living with their mother, Simone, and grandmother, Rose, in 1963 Los Angeles. The novel traces the sibling's lives at a crucial time: Roman is at a point where his anger shows itself in violent behavior; Virginia is discovering a world outside of her home and neighborhood. Through heartbreak, great joy, devastating sorrow, and events, which changed the American landscape, Virginia and Roman live out their destinies as the next generation of the Robinson family.
It's a real wonder I picked up A Family Tree, Taking Root. It's not that I don't love reading novels that center on a family. I love family dramas and I still firmly believe the best dramas are family dramas. My curiosity stems from the fact that I have a thick book phobia and A Family Tree, Taking Root is definitely a thick book, coming in at 700-plus pages. Any book that is over 300 pages, needs to accomplish whatever goals it is attempting to achieve real quick and in a hurry. It is not the time for an author to take me on a leisurely stroll through Roget's Thesaurus. Robertson wisely paced the book with the speed and agility of a gazelle in flight.
Robertson created two well-developed characters in Virginia and Roman. Both were unique and interesting in their own right, and neither overshadowed the other. Robertson had a finger on what made each tick. He wisely showed their weaknesses -- Virginia's inability to open her heart to love again, and Roman's immaturity -- as well as their strengths, making both characters human and likable.
With all its commendable points, A Family Tree, Taking Root has major flaws and loose ends that dulled its luster, making what should have been an excellent novel into a merely good one.
The third person narrative in Book One, at times, got on my nerves. Every time Robertson placed Virginia or Roman in a historical event that had social significance or featured actions that were not politically correct in today's climate, he would explain it’thoroughly. For example, on one occasion Virginia had bowed her head, lowered her eyes, and was silent. This was done in order to allow her husband, Carlos, to make a decision concerning the couple in public in order for Carlos not to loose face. Another example would be the acceptability of Simone beating the stew out of Virginia in school with the implied approval of the principal and teachers. Not only did the explanations of these happenings serve as speed bumps to the flow of the novel, it assumes that the audience for the novel is folk who were born after 1980.
A 1000-pound pink elephant of the novel that Robertson conveniently overlooked was Roman's relationship as an adult with his mother. Simone's actions and reactions towards her young son were ugly and unforgivable. Yet, when Roman became an adult and had his own family and business, he never spoke of Simone. Although Simone was always around, I cannot recall Roman ever having a conversation with her after he was 17 years old. Robertson should have explored the after effects of this mother-son relationship since it was so prominent in the first half of the novel.
The novel is divided into two sections, Book One and Book Two. If Robertson had chosen to end the novel with Book One, which centered on Virginia and Roman's teenage years to young adulthood, I would have been singing its praises from every rooftop and skyscraper. Book Two, which featured Roman and Virginia's children, lacked the attention to detail and character development that was displayed in Book One. Robertson left broad outlines of Roman's sons, with out enough dimensions or angles for my imagination to color in the empty spaces. I never felt the same connection with the next generation as I did with Virginia and Roman.
Finally, I did not get the "warm-and-fuzzies" when I finished the book, for it concluded with one of most abrupt and unsatisfying endings I've ever read. It was as if Robertson had finally gotten tired of writing the book and said, "Ah, to hell with it. I'm tired." I felt cheated.
A Family Tree, Taking Root is a nice book that contains traces of what could have been -- indeed, should have been -- a magnificent family saga.