where the writers are
The Language of Trees
The Language of Trees
$14.99
Paperback
See Book Details »

BOOK DETAILS

  • Paperback
  • Jul.20.2010
  • 9780061898648
  • Harper Collins

Ilie gives an overview of the book:

Gripping, suspenseful, magical, and richly atmospheric . . . Ilie Ruby's haunting debut novel, The Language of Trees, is exhilarating fiction that announces the arrival of a truly extraordinary storyteller. Echo O'Connell knows that the summer holds its secrets. They are whispered in the rustling trees, in the lush scent of the lilacs, in the flurry of the mayflies batting against the screen door, and in the restless spirits that seem to clamor in the scant breezes on hot evenings. It is in summer that she returns home to Canandaigua, to confront these spirits, both living and not, and to share a secret with her first love, Grant Shongo—a secret that will forever change the lives of many people in the town and put to rest the mysterious disappearance of a little boy more than a decade earlier. Grant, a descendant of the Seneca Indians who call this place "The...
Read full overview »

Gripping, suspenseful, magical, and richly atmospheric . . . Ilie Ruby's haunting debut novel, The Language of Trees, is exhilarating fiction that announces the arrival of a truly extraordinary storyteller.

Echo O'Connell knows that the summer holds its secrets. They are whispered in the rustling trees, in the lush scent of the lilacs, in the flurry of the mayflies batting against the screen door, and in the restless spirits that seem to clamor in the scant breezes on hot evenings. It is in summer that she returns home to Canandaigua, to confront these spirits, both living and not, and to share a secret with her first love, Grant Shongo—a secret that will forever change the lives of many people in the town and put to rest the mysterious disappearance of a little boy more than a decade earlier.

Grant, a descendant of the Seneca Indians who call this place "The Chosen Spot," has also come back to face his past. After a broken marriage, he has moved into his childhood home, a lake house that has withstood happiness and tragedy. He knows the spirits of the past must be dealt with—that of the little boy who disappeared all those years ago; the boy's sister, who never overcame the loss; and the love Grant still has for Echo. But before the healing must come the forgiveness.

Read an excerpt »

Excerpt from THE LANGUAGE OF TREES by Ilie Ruby

PROLOGUE

May 1988

The silken hair of the three children glows bone white in the moonlight as they paddle the stolen canoe out into the icy waters of Canandaigua Lake. The May wind is like a rabid wolf howling in the darkness, darting this way and that, biting at the rain as it sweeps across the surface in blustery sheets, hitting the children's flushed faces. The children know that on nights like this, the spirits of the Seneca Indians are weeping. Some are buried out on Squaw Island, a few miles away, and the children know if they put an ear close to the water's surface, they will hear the spirits calling, inviting them under.

Melanie Ellis, the eldest, sets her heavy wooden paddle down at the stern, and leans her thin body over the side of the canoe to listen for their whispers. Her long blond hair trails over the water, making large ripples. Her purple cotton dress billows up, revealing two bruised knees. Maya, just eight, jostles the boat as she pounds her fists and drums on the canoe’s seat. Little Luke sits precariously on the canoe’s edge, his head of blond curls tossed in the wind. Luke can withstand a thing like the foul weather, even if he is only seven, even if his body is so light, his skin so pale under the glowy moon, his sisters tease him that he looks like a ghost.

The sky becomes a deep pearl gray as the fog thickens around the coast of Squaw Island, a mystical and forbidden place that the children have only dreamed of visiting. Surrounded by a man-made barrier of large granite rocks, it is the only place on earth where rare white lime deposits known as Water Biscuits exist. Illuminated by moonlight, they cling to its shores.

The island is too far out to swim, but not to row.

Melanie plunges the paddle into the icy water. Squinting toward the hazy distance, she can see the island encircled by feather trees brushing the sky, the edges of its shoreline vanishing into the lake. The high water level has swallowed up the land bridge that once connected it to the mainland. Long ago, the island was so large one could get lost in the trees. During a war in 1779, Indian women and children escaped to safety across this bridge to hide in the droves of trees that covered the island and Melanie has always imagined them seeking shelter in the knees of trees and praying silently, sitting still as stone, and breathing so quietly that even the wind wouldn’t notice them. Just as she, herself, has done on nights when her father drinks too much and the smartest thing to do is sneak out of the house and hide, and breathe without making a sound, and imagine that she is disappearing.

The drops of rain are coming harder now, not soft marbles that roll down her face, but drops that feel like a million needles. Everything going on at home is distant now, pushed into darkness by the clamoring rain and the scent of restless spirits.

The storm is kicking up.

Thunder wracks the sky as Melanie forces the paddle against the waves. The wind howls, rolling the water like a serpent under the canoe. The lake begins to buck and push. The waves splash up against the sides of the boat, drenching the children in icy water. Maya and Luke have started to cry, begging her to go back. Melanie pushes her wet hair out of her eyes and glances behind her toward the Shongo’s property. For a moment, unmoving, she is captivated by the sight of the Diamond Trees, the two great willows whose flickering leaves, when caught in the moonlight, create diamonds of light scattered across the water. These trees light the way for those who are lost. She quickly turns back toward the island, trying to gauge the distance ahead. She can see it out there in the mist, floating toward her.

The waves are pushing the canoe toward the island.

The heavy paddle slips from Melanie’s hands, the waves wrestling it away. She crawls toward the front of the canoe, straining to retrieve it, but the paddle is quickly disappearing into the darkness. The boat is tossed aimlessly, caught halfway between the mainland and the island. The children cry out for help, their voices lost in the fog as they hold on to each other. Icy water surges up, filling the boat.  Melanie must think fast. She edges toward the middle of the canoe, takes a deep breath, and plunges her hands into the numbing water to paddle. Luke reaches out for her, but she pushes him back, trying to keep the island in view. As the waves pull the boat closer, Melanie suddenly sees something: a figure moving on the island. Through the moonlit mist, her eyes can just make out the shimmering silhouette of a man so tall storm clouds rest on his shoulders. His body is so large that when he bends over with his shovel, he carries the moon on his back. He is digging furiously.

Trembling, Melanie calls out to him but her voice disappears into the crashing waves. She hears her siblings whimpering, and looks at their small bodies huddled against the seat, frozen, wide-eyed, watching her. Bracing her feet against the sides of the canoe for balance, she waves one arm at the giant as she struggles to stand. The island is closer now but the giant does not hear her. As the waves tip the canoe back and forth, she leans her weight from side to side, yelling to the giant again and again. Then there is a sudden roar of thunder followed by a whip of lightning that cracks the surface of the lake. In the flash, Melanie can see the giant more clearly, his wide face and black hair. She watches now as he throws down his shovel and picks up a large axe. Her eyes focus on the shadows as he lifts the axe into the air and down again, over and over, as though smashing the moonlight.

Maya catches the shock on her sister’s face as Melanie panics, tipping the canoe, her feet slipping out from underneath her. Melanie falls, her cheek slamming against the seat, her arms and legs scraping and sliding against the cold wet floor. Her vision blurs. And as she begins to black out, she can see Maya moving near the edge of the boat, the red of her dress darkening into the sky’s gray. She can hear the sound of her name being called through the wind.

            Small cries are wrestled into a deadening quiet. Rain stops. Then there is nothing but the swishing of the boat.            

Near dawn, the sky is hushed pink. Wisps of clouds rise from the chalky white shoreline of Squaw Island. Melanie is awakened by the soft scrape of white stones against the canoe’s floor. Peeking out from the island’s thin trees is the rusted door of an old boy scout cabin. Where there once was a giant, now only his imprint is left in the trees, his dark shadow clinging to the leaves and branches.

Floating in a lucent pool, Melanie trembles as she pushes herself up, despite the piercing pain that weighs her head down. She whispers Luke’s name as her eyes search for him.

Melanie feels her heart quicken when she doesn’t see Luke in the canoe.  Only Maya, who is staring at her, her arms wrapped around herself, her dress, torn at the shoulder.

 Melanie scans the horizon. On the island, she can see a shovel stuck in a pile of dirt.

            A heavy curtain of mist slowly lifts off the water.

            The lake still reflects each star, as though it were holding on, unwilling to let them fade.             

            “It’s all your fault,” Maya whispers, with pale eyes.

ilie-ruby's picture

Please visit my website at www.ilieruby.com for upcoming events and reviews.

About Ilie

My second novel THE SALT GOD'S DAUGHTER arrived on September 4, 2012. It has been called "bewitching" by Kirkus Reviews, which is as thrilling as the note I received from a wonderful woman two days after it was published telling me she loved it. My first novel THE LANGUAGE OF...

Read full bio »

Published Reviews

Jul.11.2010

Painter and short story writer Ruby debuts with a haunting, lyrical novel of love, loss, and second chances set in upstate New York and greatly informed by the Seneca Indians, whose lore imbues the book...

Jul.11.2010

Painter and short story writer Ruby debuts with a haunting, lyrical novel of love, loss, and second chances set in upstate New York and greatly informed by the Seneca Indians, whose lore imbues the book...