Juniper Tree Burning by Goldberry Long
Simon & Schuster, 2001
Simon & Schuster, 2001
Hardcover, 464 pages
highly recommended, reread
Jennifer Braverman was once named Juniper Tree Burning, and she hates that name. It represents the childhood she escaped: her hippie mother, Faith, caught up in mind-altering salvation; her well-meaning father, Ray, interchanging kiss and slap, and her sickly little brother, Sunny Boy Blue, whom she could not save. Jennie, now a successful adult, newly married to a seemingly perfect man, Christian Braverman, is a strong, fiercely intelligent woman. She has left Juniper Tree Burning behind. All of this changes when she learns of Sunny's suicide. Whether an act of despair or revenge, her brother's final message sends Jennie running from her husband. Part love story, part family saga, and part road trip, Juniper Tree Burning is the story of Jennie's mad dash across the mountains and plains of the American West, toward the site of Sunny's death.
Juniper Tree Burning by Goldberry Long is a novel about the psychotic break of a woman who has always been running from her family and her past, but now has to come to terms with her younger brother's suicide. Moving back and forth in time from when Juniper was young to the present, we see the dysfunctional hippy family life she experienced growing up as Juniper Tree Burning in contrast to her current life where she is known as Jennifer. Juniper's parents use her and her younger brother, Sunny Boy Blue, as pawns in their own troubled marriage.
Long moves effortlessly between the present and the past, using first and third person narratives, as the story slowly unfolds. She paints a vivid picture when describing her characters and the setting while more and more of the story is revealed.
Having first read Juniper Tree Burning after it was first released, this is a reread for me. I'll have to admit that the second time was not a charm in this instance. While it is still undoubtedly a very good novel, this time around it felt overly long and Jennifer/Juniper was not quite as compelling a character and became a bit tiresome.
Highly recommended - reread
I wasn't speaking to my brother, but he phoned anyway, hours before he went into the sea. I can couple this fact with what he Seattle policeman told me. opening
Before he kidnapped me from my own wedding reception, Sunny Boy Blue -- that little prick, that darling Backwards Boy -- he nearly skipped the Big Event altogether. He was scheduled for Christmas, but to the tune of my mother's tears, he missed his flight. Then he missed another, and it seemed that Russia was holding him back, like honey, or a fly trap. Alas, he pulled free with less than twenty-four hours to spare, time enough to wreak a little havoc, assassinate my New Year's Day, my birthday, my wedding day, all my big holidays clustered together, a gaggle of ducks waiting to be shot down by this drunken imposter flown in from Russia. By the reception dinner, I wished him dead. pg. 15
"The point!" the Brother announces to the room. "Juniper wants a point!" He leans over her shoulder and breathes his smoky vodka breath into her face. "Am I getting on your nerves? Am I pissing you off?"
She looks into his see-through eyes. She tells him no.
His nose touches hers. He whispers, "Liar, liar, Juniper Tree on Fire." He straightened. "The point," he said, raising his flask again. "To Juniper Tree Burning, the lovely bride!" I stared down at the boots he wore with his tuxedo, heavy black combat-issue storm troopers. He leaned around me and pointed the flask at Chris. "To her brave groom, Mr. Braverman."
"I'll drink to my bride," Chris said, raising his glass. "To the lovely Mrs. Braverman." He was smiling, playing along with the joke, only his eyes in my direction were checking on me, saying, I'm on your side, Cinderella.
Then Sunny looked straight at my groom. When he spoke, his voice was cold, sober, hateful. He said, "Here's hoping she doesn't leave you like she leaves everyone else." pg. 17
I have always known my rightful place in the world, which was not in New Mexico, not with my parents in a mud house without running water, and most of all, not with a name like Juniper Tree Burning. I was not meant to live like that. Even a kid knows when she's in the wrong place.
I wanted to be the bride. I wanted to fall backwards into the comfort of normalcy, like a child in the wilderness who nestles into the snow and sleeps. I don't understand those people who want to be outside the universe of the ordinary. I was the bride, and this was enough for me. It was not snow, but a featherbed, gloriously warm and safe: it was rest.
But Sunny would not allow me to rest. He kept pulling me back into the wilderness, calling me Juniper, trying to make me be what I am not. pg. 18
I am my father's daughter, and my father is the King of Leaving. So, almost nine months after this fiasco of a wedding, less than the time it takes to gestate a baby or finish a school year, this bride, this Jennie - on a lark, a whim - will leave the new husband behind of her very own volition. pg. 29
How far back is far enough? Where is the beginning of Sunny Boy Blue jumping into the sea? Can you ever find the moment, the second, the seed? pg. 51