Book Review: The Cicada Tree by Robert Gwaltney

Author: Robert Gwaltney
Publisher: Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC
Publish Date: January 14, 2022
Print Length: 334

Official Synopsis

The summer of 1956, a brood of cicadas descends upon Providence, Georgia, a natural event with supernatural repercussions, unhinging the life of Analeise Newell, an eleven-year-old piano prodigy. Amidst this emergence, dark obsessions are stirred, uncanny gifts provoked, and secrets unearthed.

During a visit to Mistletoe, a plantation owned by the wealthy Mayfield family, Analeise encounters Cordelia Mayfield and her daughter Marlissa, both of whom possess an otherworldly beauty, a lineal trait regarded as that Mayfield Shine. A whisper and an act of violence perpetrated during this visit by Mrs. Mayfield all converge to kindle Analeise’s fascination with the Mayfields.

Analeise’s burgeoning obsession with the Mayfield family overshadows her own seemingly, ordinary life, culminating in dangerous games and manipulation, setting off a chain of cataclysmic events with life-altering consequences-all of it unfolding to the maddening whir of a cicada song.

When an eleven year old, whisky drinking, piano prodigy encounters a wealthy family possessing supernatural beauty, her ensuing obsession unleashes family secrets and a cataclysmic plague of cicadas.

My Review

I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

I 100% chose this book based off of the title and cover. Last summer where I live was when we experienced the emergence of the Brood X cicadas. And I love (most) bugs. So even though this isn’t a genre I usually read, I thought I’d give it a shot.

The Cicada Tree is told through 11-year-old Analeise’s point of view in 1950s Providence, Georgia. It’s a slow-moving, mild, psychological thriller during which Analeise becomes captivated by the Mayfield family. The first half plods along taking its sweet time to introduce the reader to most of the characters and their personalities. To be honest, it moved a bit too slowly for me, particularly since certain synopsis highlights only come to focus in the last half of the book. The second half reads at a faster clip as the mind games begin and Analeise becomes evermore enthralled by the Mayfields.

Though the ending felt abrupt and unsatisfactory, Gwaltney kept me guessing at what would happen next. Every time I thought I knew what a character would do, they ended up doing something I didn’t expect. Only near the end did I more or less figure out one piece of this strange game of manipulation. I don’t quite understand how the cicada explosion fits into the story; I decided to just go with it. Maybe it has to do with the imagery of emerging. That is, like the cicada brood, Annaleise finds herself emerging into a cruel corner of her community; she emerges into the truth.

“I could taste it right away, the feeling in Etta Mae’s soprano–the taste of want. It was like cinnamon. Only a smattering. Red hot and honeyed. Then fading. Lingering just long enough to scald my tongue.”
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Another interesting and unexpected aspect I enjoyed is that Analeise can see and taste music, which is a form of synesthesia. The way Gwaltney describes how Analeise senses the various notes and tone of the music was beautiful. In fact, I loved all of Gwaltney’s descriptive prose. I’m not an expert on the culture of 1950s Georgia. But the way Gwaltney described it made me feel like I was there experiencing all of the conversational analogies and “-isms.” One particular favorite quote of mine is:

“We tolerated her like a fly at a picnic.”
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The author characterizes well the desire to be included, particularly among Analeise’s female peer group. The desire to fit in can be so alluring that even the stronger-minded find themselves stuck like a bug in a web. Gwaltney also captures the sweetness of the innocent and more oblivious in Etta Mae, Analeise’s friend.

Overall, The Cicada Tree is an interesting historical fiction, psychological, gothic thriller. Though I enjoyed the writing, I felt the pace of the story was off. This type of story ended up not being for me, so take my opinions with a grain of salt. I think if you’re a fan of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (which I also rated similarly), then you’ll enjoy this book.

Rating: 3/5
Content warnings: gaslighting
Reading format: Kindle e-book

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