People In The Trees is the 2013 debut by American novelist Hanya Yanagihara. It is a retrospective account detailing the life story of esteemed scientist Abraham Norton Perina and the events that led to his eventual arrest. The story has a fantastic premise that is both original and unique and discusses very universally relevant themes; that of man’s obssession with eternal youth and the corrupting effects of capitalism.
But that, unfortunately is where all the pros end. In its attempt to evoke the authenticity of a real life edited transcript, it comes off as very dull as a result. I also had a problem with the heavily congested syntax throughout which is a shame as there were admittedly bits of prosaic magic in this read.
I found the homo-erotic symbolism that ran throughout the novel very distinguished, given the contextually taboo nature of such an orientation during the 1950s. Norton speaks about the way a young man on Ivu’ivu carries his spear in very suggestive phallic terms. He observes the men ingratiating each other with their virility, while maintaining their stoic manliness, empowering homosexuality by equating it to strength.
The characters were mostly disengaging and uninteresting, including Norton, our main character whose air of cynicism was enervating. Yet Yanagihara captures the spirited ambitious nature of a scientist in his character. He hungers for adventure and discovery not willing to retire himself to the disenchanting banality of his colleagues back home. The invention of the opa’ivu’eke (an immortality-granting turtle) suspends your disbelief so as to compound this fact.
The constant allusion to homo eroticism throughout the book foreshadowed its shocking-but-not-so-shocking-end. I found it to be quite forgettable and a poor attempt at a plot twist. For that reason I rate People In The Trees..
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