The King in the Tree


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Like Carter, Millhauser can get drunk on words, but as he's honed his voice he's shed much of the excess.

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And, also like Carter, he's used his lush prose and archetypal motifs to trace the outer arcs of passion, places where eros and violence meet. Both of these writers -- Carter the 60's-era libertine and Millhauser the retiring college professor -- see that the farthest reaches of the imagination belong to the utterly ruthless, to the likes of Sade. And even if you don't go quite that far, things can get scary. As the old maps say: Here be monsters. The narrator is a widow, the survivor of a cozy year marriage, her conversation a shade too intimate and confiding.

Through the living room, the downstairs bath and the kitchen she leads her guest, proferring tea and eking out the story of her fall from paradise, which began when her husband confessed to an affair.

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With this sort of stagey, first-person voice, you anticipate a plot twist or two, can guess what's coming and then, far too soon, the widow announces: ''He told me things. I said nothing. He told me her name. That's when I learned it was you. With the most obvious trick out of the way, what's next? How did the husband die?

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What are the widow's intentions? She veers between motherly clucking and a barbed but meticulously controlled rage. The sheer creativity of her bitterness, from the lurid images she invokes of her husband and his mistress in bed to a scorching burlesque of resignation ''I saw myself tucking the two of you in at night, sitting on the side of the bed -- oh, the adorable little rascals! I could serve you meals. I could bathe you. Gosh, I could do your nails: red hot, or a nice minty green, or black as witches'' is vertiginous.

Surely her vengeance, when it comes, will be a work of art.

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Romantic triangles, illicit love and jealousy -- an affliction that arises out of the imagination, after all -- are recurring elements in these three novellas. In ''An Adventure of Don Juan,'' the Spanish rake flees the cloying decadence of Venice for the Somersetshire home of Augustus Hood, one of those indefatigable polymaths the Enlightenment produced in great numbers. In the apparently wholesome environment of Swan Park, he soon ceases to feel that ''every drop of his bright blood was being replaced by thick, dark smoke.


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He is, however, in well over his canny head. The countryside itself telegraphs a warning: ''It was all very well to turn away from artifice in the direction of the natural and wild, but those wild prospects, those tumbling cascades and rugged grottoes, were all the work of ingenious artificers. The title novella in the collection takes place in the court of the legendary king of Cornwall, husband to Ysolt and uncle to Tristan, whose doomed adulterous love is a foundation story in the courtly tradition.

In his diary, Thomas, a counselor to the king, tells the tale, one that freshman English majors learn is a fundamental collision between the individual and society, between the wayward lovers and the order they defy. This time, society gets to speak its piece, for Tristan and Ysolt not only destroy their own lives, but deeply wound many others as well.

First among them is the king, who is torn between the two people he loves best and lacerated by jealousy. The narrator in the story, wife of a recently deceased man, is talking to you, navigating you through the different rooms in her house. You then are a prospective buyer of the house, it seems, but someone more: someone whom the narrator would like to take her vengeance out on. At some point, though, the joke is on you, the reader, is the feeling that I got, because it is revealed in the story that the whole of the story is just a series of set pieces to lure you into the plot, itself not terribly important to the relationship Millhauser is trying to cultivate with you, the Reader.

The King in the Tree is a retelling of the classic love story of Tristan and Ysolt. The back cover of my paperback copy incorrectly identifies the story as being from the perspective of the king, who is married to Ysolt, but the story is quite literally told from the perspective of the king's close compatriot Thomas of Cornwall. The book explores the king's suspicions of Tristan and Ysolt's protracted affair as well as Thomas's role as to how much of a confidant he is supposed to be in view of the affair.

This novella is Millhauser at his best, and thank God it is saved for last.

Nov 11, James Murphy rated it really liked it. This is another book I've had a long time, at least 5 years. Millhauser has written 3 novellas about love and relationships. In 2 of them he pushes aside the veil obscuring legend or myth to reveal characters made round and human. It's here that we meet Don Juan in hell, more of a wounded Fisher King than aggressive seducer. The opening story is a pained monologue of a woma This is another book I've had a long time, at least 5 years. The opening story is a pained monologue of a woman directed at her husband's mistress. Millhauser is a wonderful writer.

These are serious reflections on love yet he touches them with pinches and dashes of humor. One can both sympathise and be amused at the plight of Don Juan. And the reader is invited to see the optimism of King Mark as he tries to find levity in approaching tragedy. He's king as father, seeing the good in all his children in the face of disappointment. View 2 comments. Finished the first story. Did not expect that.

I give it 5 stars.


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Finished An adventure of Don Juan, the ending.. But the story was entretaining and i liked the charecters. Finishedthe last story. The king in the tree. A story about Tristan and Ysolt from the point of view of Thomas, the king's advisor and King Marks perspective. Pretty good but full of people knowing that something is wrong and doing nothing about it which irritates me. All in all i will go buy some other Millhauser short novellas, i liked them. May 16, Karen rated it really liked it.

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The first story, while well-told, did not really hold my attention. The second story held it more. The final story, and the story which lends its title to the book, is by far the most intriguing and heart-wrenching of the three. It is for this story you should read this book. Oct 21, Katie M.

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It's three novellas, the first of which is so jarringly different in tone and subject matter though they're all ostensibly about deception - which is true, but that's still not enough to smooth over the gaps that it really detracts from the work as a whole. The second story is probably the most solid of the three; the third is beautiful but unfortunately consists of so much betray-forgive-betray-forgive that p Ack, this came SO CLOSE to being a really great book, and just didn't quite make it.

The second story is probably the most solid of the three; the third is beautiful but unfortunately consists of so much betray-forgive-betray-forgive that pretty soon you stop caring and can't decide whether you're more sick of the betrayer betraying or the forgiver forgiving. That being said, the writing is dark and excellent, and I'd like to try giving more of his stories a shot. May 17, Melinda rated it really liked it. Three tales of love as told by three characters standing in its shadows: a betrayed wife, a thwarted Don Juan, and a tormented king.

I'm becoming a Millhauser fan, I think. His work is unique in that any given story either comes from or arrives at an undeniable truth in the dark.

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The stories with their keenly imagined details and impeccably wrought narratives startle and stun. I liked: the first novella, really got my attention with a tour of the house and all. Would I recommend it: Yes, it has quite a lot to tell on disappointments, betrayals and memory- quite a read if you have time like a weekend or so. The good side of it: 3 Novellas in one. I love novellas. Award: 3 stars, one for each novella for sharing a character's world in their own way.

Jun 14, Wilsontherocker rated it really liked it Shelves: speculative-fiction. Three novellas on the theme of the tragic love triangle. The first, "Revenge," is Millhauser at his most emotionally effective. Despite the artifice in Millhauser's writing, he still manages to lure the reader into connecting with his lovesick characters. I'd compare it to how Wes Anderson's films have sympathetic characters despite the dollhouse-like settings.

Jun 23, M.

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