The Havoc Tree by Layden Robinson is hard to review on a story by story basis. It is a perfect example of surreal horror and though there are ten separate stories within this collection, reading them together gave me the sense that they were meant to be consumed not as separate stories but as one singular experience. With the short length of The Havoc Tree this is easily possible and highly recommended.
All that being said, this type of surreal horror is not usually my kind of thing, but as always I needed to give the author the benefit of the doubt and I’m glad I did, because the best part of this collection comes at the end. Before I get to the final story, titled Fate, I need to talk about the overall feel of the other stories. Some of the stories have a disjointed and often confusing narrative and in order to understand what is happening or determine the point the author is trying to get across, a line must be read multiple times. At first, I thought this was just the particular story I was reading, but it continued to happen. As the disjointedness persisted, I realized the author was creating this fragmentary feeling within the stories on purpose and I had a better understanding of what Robinson was trying to achieve. Because while the narrative can be disjointed at times there is also such incredible imagery contained within all of the stories. It was these sometimes frightening, sometimes beautiful, sometimes gruesome images that pulled me through the stories when the narrative failed to do so.
I cannot review a story collection without calling out at least one story and that story is the last one in the collection, Fate. At its heart, the story is a version of the ‘deal with the devil’ trope. But this story puts its own surreal twist on it and for me it worked really well. The main character meets the man at the bar, his name we find out later is Mr. Levid which doesn’t leave much mystery as to his identity, but again this isn’t the point. There is a final twist at the end of this quick yet effective story that makes it easily the best of the collection.
Again, The Havoc Tree is not my kind of horror but having said that I still enjoyed it and I’m sure most of our Horror Bound readers will as well. This gets a solid 3/5 from me.
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