Thorn Tree

A Novel

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Pub Date 16 Apr 2024 | Archive Date 30 Apr 2024


A beautifully wrought novel on the aftershocks of the heady but dangerous late 1960s and the relationship between trauma and the creative impulse.

Now in his late-sixties, Daniel lives in quiet anonymity in a converted guest cottage in the Hollywood Hills. A legendary artist, he’s known for one seminal work—Thorn Tree—a hulking, welded, scrap metal sculpture that he built in the Mojave desert in the 1970s. The work emerged from tragedy, but building it kept Daniel alive and catapulted him to brief, reluctant fame in the art world.

Daniel is neighbors with Celia, a charismatic but fragile actress. She too experienced youthful fame, hers in a popular television series, but saw her life nearly collapse after a series of bad decisions. Now, a new movie with a notorious director might reignite her career.

A single mother, Celia leaves her young son Dean for weeks at a time with her father, Jack, who stays at her house while she’s on location. Jack and Daniel strike up a tentative friendship as Dean takes to visiting Daniel’s cottage--but something about Jack seems off. Discomfiting, strangely intimate, with flashes of anger balanced by an almost philosophical bent, Jack is not the harmless grandparent he pretends to be.

Weaving the idealism and the darkness of the late 1960s, the glossy surfaces of Los Angeles celebrity today, and thrumming with the sound of the Grateful Dead, the mania of Charles Manson and other cults, and the secrets that both Jack and Daniel have harbored for fifty years, Thorn Tree by Max Ludington is an utterly-compelling novel.

A beautifully wrought novel on the aftershocks of the heady but dangerous late 1960s and the relationship between trauma and the creative impulse.

Now in his late-sixties, Daniel lives in quiet...

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ISBN 9781250288714
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Average rating from 40 members

Featured Reviews

An exciting three part novel set outside of Hollywood.
Daniel lives a hermit-like life. Once an infamous artist creating massive multimedia sculptures, he now lives a isolated life tutors young students in English in his free time. His actress- neighbor Celia, is recuperating from a second stay at rehab. She has recently been cast in a strenuous movie and is on the cusp of massive stardom. The filming has gone long and she has left her once estranged father Jack to watch her young son Dean.

All of these adults are running from trauma - how it all ties together and the story it makes will simply enthrall you! If you love multi-layered and complex characters and plots that span decades, this is an amazing book for you!
#ThornTree #Maxludington #StMartins

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I absolutely adored ‘Thorn Tree’ and devoured it as quickly as I could. I’ve been suffering from reading fatigue, but this book, with its complex characters and exploration of how individuals may respond to trauma, got my head back into the game. Can’t wait to recommend this one to all of my friends.

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Years after Daniel created his block-buster sculpture “Thorn Tree,” he looked for ways to reconnect with the world. He does this by befriending Dean, the young child of his neighbor Celia, keeping Dean’s grandfather, Jack, instinctively at arm’s length.

He has a relationship with Tanya and her sons, Rashid and Gerald, with Gerald eventually moving in with him. But Daniel has experienced tragic loss which prevents him from experiencing life, a situation that Jack knows something about.

This novel is rooted in the Vietnam era of the late 60s and 70s, and references the music of the Doors, the Stones and the Grateful Dead combined with the lurking cults and drugs that were part of the L.A. scene. The wartime upheavals and their effects on the family unit linked with its intergenerational aftermath makes “Thorn Tree” by Max Ludington a powerful and suspenseful novel.

Many thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing this ARC.

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“I met one man who was wounded in love,
I met another man who was wounded in hatred”.
—Bob Dylan, A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall

Where’s Waldo? 🕶️
Or….. in “Thorn Tree”, who’s Hugo? 🥺
Ha….you’ll have to read the book to find out who and where Hugo is.
[NOTE: …. hint: not a main character—but he leaves a mark] > he did with me.
Okay … got your attention yet?
—First - and foremost, I enjoyed this novel!!! Does it have some awkward quirks? A few thorns? The occasional- ‘PAUSE-to re-read’ unusual words in sentences? It did for me …. but…. I kinda liked all the varied messy shenanigans happening in this story, anyway. I took my time with this novel.
Max Ludington is a new author for me (I’ll read him again….and I’ve already purchased “Tiger in a Trance”).

Expect pages of detail descriptions ….plots and subplots, complex interesting characters and the relationships between them.

THERE IS A LOT GOING ON IN THIS NOVEL….chock-filled with interesting insights, authenticity, scars from traumas, and overall wonderful storytelling.
…..Sub stories with many supporting characters….
…..Suspense, tension, contemplating dialogue, bereavement, love, grief, hope, trauma, hopelessness, love, loss, death, murder, abuse, drugs, acid trips, a prison story, rock ‘n’ roll, musicians, hippies, cults, outstanding creative authentic art-in-the-making, family, friendships, surfers, house sharing, roommates, casual, hookups, romantic, love, infidelity, Los Angeles in the 60’s, and 70’s, The Mojave desert, San Francisco, Berkeley…..
……bohemian breeze, and dazzling historical counterculture nostalgic personality throughout.

There is much to love, adore, and appreciate in ‘Thorn Tree’…..

The blurb for ‘Thorn Tree’ is perfect….[readers will know instantly - from it - if this is a story one wants to read].
As a 71 year old female who grew up in California during the late 60’s (with family in both Southern Calif. and Northern Calif.)….and a student at UC Berkeley during the civil rights movement, the days of the Vietnam war anti-protests, countercultural movements, sit-ins, emerging generation gaps, Free love, flower power, hippies, groovy fads, Beatlemania, psychedelic drugs, and political mayhem, I knew I was a good fit…..(but all generations can easily enjoy this historical period).

I finished this novel weeks ago — could write a book — haha — about many aspects — its long — with philosophical complexities….and sometimes mind-expanding experiences……
Much to discuss about …
…..The quiet, reserved, likable artist/retired school teacher/tutor at a community center in Inglewood, Ca. —*Daniel Tunison* - (his journey alone is worth the price of this novel)… His famous metal sculpture ‘Thorn Tree’….
The actress: Celia Dressler….(single mom to six year old Dean)….and ‘her’ naughty-fragile-(fresh out of rehab for the second go-around-journey …..
The mysterious character: Jack Dressler (grandfather, caretaker to little grandson, Dean)….
The provocative, poignant, and substantial themes….choices made, secrets, history, etc. — etc. etc. (this novel is fully worthy of being read by a wide range of readers)….and Max Ludington is clearly an author who loves language. I enjoy words he selected ….
Enjoyed his storytelling…..
…..(even with a few quibbles) — Max Ludington’s novel is an enjoyable achievement …..
…..with delightful affecting passionate-indelible-main-and supporting characters.
[Daniel, Celia, Jack, Dean, Ben, Leo, Miles, Roland, Amelia Stander, (Daniel’s ex-wife), Forest, (Daniel’s adult son), Raymond, Rashid, Driscoll Travis, Tanya, Gerald, Darren, Memory-of-Cameron Cooper, Matty Jones, Rachel Cullen, Charles Foreman, Ron Ron, Tall Man, Win, Fritz & Sarah, Cyrus Foley, Diana, Billy, writer for the L.A. Weekly), Gretchen/Miranda, etc.]

Here are a few sample excerpts:
Note: (these first few excerpts take place in Arizona where Celia was playing the lead role in a surrealist sci-fi Anna Karenina reboot.
….Celia felt fear ….self doubt …. about her acting abilities….
Her core fear:
“It’s unfathamed mass rode inside her always, weighing her down, like a gigantic, immovably dense meteor lying deep in its on prehistoric crater behind the display glass shade she’d constructed around it. It was so heavy that she sometimes was surprised when her body actually moved in immediate response to signals from her brain”.

“A gout of anger filled her lungs. She rose, walked to the sofa, and began to pound one of the cushions with her right fist, as hard as she could, gritting her teeth and throwing her weight around it, grunting with the effort”.
Why just her ‘right’ fist? Seems to me if I was really angry I’d be using both arms. LOL

“The landscape transcended its stark, hostile emptiness, and took on an astonishing beauty. If she stood outside the main building at sunset, looking in the direction of the outbuildings, it was easy for Celia to feel that she really was on another planet”.
Definitely “surrealist” —
Didn’t sound like any Anna Karenina book I have ever read.
Perhaps Leo Tolstoy was laughing from his grave.😉

Right away, early in the book, it was easy to sense that Celia was angry, or maybe deeply hurt . . . [I didn’t know why yet] —
but she had a rage in her that I felt (even identified with)….but her director, Miles wanted that organic raging energy she had ‘on screen’. (not withheld for herself behind closed doors).

Celia’s relationship with Leo …..was kinda spicy-risqué fun to read ….
As were other tidbit stories, dialogues, and descriptions.

Max Ludington is an author who loves language, (seems to me he must enjoy playing with words).
He certainly has a great understanding of the complexities of being human, and he is a delicious storytelling.
I really enjoyed this book becoming one ‘with’ the characters.

Other excepts: (just because I liked them)….

“And then with a breath he moved deeper, and felt the tree growing beyond itself, into the sky, into the distant reaches of the earth’s crust, until he understood he was experiencing not just the trees living body, but lush untroubled immensely of its consciousness, which was not subject to the vicissitudes and ephemerality native to human awareness. The tree had been growing here on this cliff for centuries, and it’s in her life was a majestic and fully articulated expansion of its corporeal form, an image of what it my achieve if were able to grow forever. In its soul, the tree’s branches were woven intricately into the stars, and its roots enfolded half the earth”.

“Just because you’re a hermit by nature doesn’t mean all artists are, even your own son. And just because you quit making art even though yours was selling, doesn’t mean there aren’t others who spend their lives preserving even if they sell nothing”.
“Daniel hung his head. Maybe that’s the difference. I was never an artist. Not really. I was just a lost young man who made one thing that suddenly everybody loved, and so for a while I convinced myself I was someone I wasn’t, and made a bunch of stupid copies of the first thing”.
“Forest gave an exasperated laugh. You spent years in the desert making a gigantic object of a great beauty without ever knowing or caring if anyone would see it. If that’s not an artist, I don’t know what it is. Even those stupid copies are f-ing gorgeous”.

Lots to contemplate … think about …. wonderful memories (Heck, I was at The Grateful Dead concert myself in S.F.)….
and my first experience at The Filmore while on a first date scared the F… out of me. I was still a very straight-arrow who liked to match my Kelly-green shoes with my purse. Lots of growing up memories….

“Denoting sin, sorrow and hardship, the thorn is one of the most ancient symbols in the world; together with the ROSE, it represents pain and pleasure, and the thorn is an
emblem of Christ’s passion, as with the crown of thorns”.

4.5 stars….Rating UP….with pleasure 💃

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A sculpture is admired by the top art critics. It’s a thorn tree made from scrap pieces of metal with wild limbs in all directions. It has taken on a new meaning with this intriguing plot – one that you may find exciting and unusual.

The grandiose tree takes on a path of its own from the creator, Daniel, who remembered the love he had with his girlfriend, Rachel. This was the last place they were sitting together peacefully just south of Santa Cruz on one of the cliffs above the ocean. Rachel left to take a walk and when he woke up from a deep sleep, everything changed.

Life events can be unpredictable and this book is a prime example of how it can unravel when you think you have complete control of what’s ahead. We may meet someone who seems so familiar as described in the book -- like a reincarnated soul – and we try to make sense of it.

Max Ludington takes us into the drug scene of the late 60s with hippies living together at a mystical commune in California. For those living during this time, it could bring back some memories of this movement of free-spirited new-age love. I guess you can call this historical fiction for those that have to ask their parents or grandparents what this was all about.

The writing is engaging with a suspenseful plot and yet, the chapters are long without good breaking points. There are two stories that eventually merge into one and everything makes sense but can be confusing at first. Every character is well-thought out with vivid images to like or scorn with disgust. It’s a book like no other and I have a feeling that this story will linger in my head for a long time.

My thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this book with an expected release date of April 16, 2024.

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