Through the eyes of a precocious young girl, Judy Pascoe brings us a magical tale of love and loss that is infused with lyrical beauty and spiritual depth.
For ten-year-old Simone O’Neill, the death of her father is shattering: she blames him for running away, and has nightmares about him lying awake in his grave. It’s been three months, but still her mother Dawn cries herself to sleep at night and cuts herself off from her children, unable to cope with the curve life has thrown her. Simone’s brothers have also retreated into their own worlds, and as tension overtakes the home, leaving each of the family isolated in his or her grief, Simone’s sorrow begins to turn to hate.
Then one day, soon after a visit to her father’s grave that left her scared of the ants that worked the soil, something magical happens as Simone stands in her family’s backyard. “Don’t worry about the ants,” she hears, and it seems to be coming from a massive tree. “They’re everywhere. Why are there so many?” she asks the air. “They’re busy,” is the reply, and “Yes, it’s me.” It is then that Simone realizes that her father is not trapped in his grave or up in heaven, but has gone to live in the large tree behind the house. At first she’s terrified, spends weeks sprinting through the yard avoiding the tree’s calls, but then one day she decides to face the truth, and climbs. And when her father begins to speak, she embraces his presence: “I didn’t hate him so much now for dying, because for the first time since he died I could remember what he was like when he was alive.”
With this discovery begins Our Father Who Art in a Tree, an enchanting and enchanted novel about life and death and all of the layers of love, loss, family, belief and community that lie in between -- or in the way. In an effort to console her mother, Simone shares her secret and brings her into the fold, so Dawn can at last unburden herself of some of the grief that has consumed her and try to move on. In the tree, Simone’s mother is able to share her pain with her husband, and also recapture some of the joy of their marriage. But when a new man enters her life, Dawn is faced with the hardest decision of all: whether to hang on or let go.
In the unbearable heat and drought of a single Australian summer, Dawn’s inability to choose torments both her and her children, and the tree begins to take over their home as well as their thoughts. The branches scratch a nightly warning on the sides of the house. Roots begin to fill the drains and attack the foundations. An errant limb crashes through the window and sprawls onto Dawn’ s bed, coming to rest on the husband’s side. Gradually an entire community is pulled in by its force: extended family members arrive and try to help Dawn cope; neighbours intercede, withdraw. But it is not all anguish, here. The ladies of the Neighbourhood Watch, concerned for their suburban calm, face off against Simone’s elderly aunts, who totter around on high heels and understand that Mr. O’Neill is just not ready to go, in an Us versus Them bridge tournament that puts the life of the tree at stake. Yet it is only when the weather finally breaks and a storm of cyclone strength and fury hits the neighbourhood that Simone’s family -- and their faith in the future -- is put to the ultimate test.
From the Hardcover edition.