The Tree Doctor
Marie Mutsuki Mockett
Graywolf Press

Can a deadly virus teach a better appreciation of life?

In the Covid year of 2020, the middle-aged narrator finds herself stranded in her childhood home in Carmel, California. Her Japanese mother’s declining health has placed her in a facility two hours down the road and effectively out of reach. The narrator’s husband and two children are at home in Hong Kong and impossible to reach due to travel restrictions. Although she’s teaching an online course in the classical Japanese story The Tale of Genji, the narrator is alone in the house and bored. She decides to tend to her mother’s garden, sadly neglected due to her ill health.

Finding herself out of her depth with what’s required, the narrator calls on a tree doctor for help. He arrives and immediately shares her fascination with the garden and the trees within. Together they set out to revive the garden. Isolated and feeling unloved after not having had sex for six years, the narrator plunges into passionate affair with the tree doctor. The restoration of the garden focuses around a rare cherry tree, and the work matches the increasing revival of the narrator’s own feelings and especially her body. The cycle of life and death around her, the narrator’s own relationship with her mother and the general state of the modern world trying to deal with the pandemic is eerily mirrored in The Tale of Genji.

The Tree Doctor is a literary novel of life, sex, death and rebirth and a study of how isolation and the expectations of society can work in an individual. Elegiac, profound and intensely human, it’s a story anyone exploring their self and their relationship to the world will appreciate.