Sea of Trees, Robert James Russell’s inaugural novella from Winter Goose Publishing needles at one of the darkest moments in the human experience – when a person decides to commit suicide. But the prose refuses to be bogged down by the weight of the subject matter, instead forging relentlessly through an ever-darkening forest with the promise of thinning on the other side.
The novella covers one main story arc, that of Bill and Junko as they walk in the footsteps of Izumi, Junko’s troubled sister, who came before. Interspersed within are self-contained vignettes that focus on a different suicide in the Aokigahara Forest in Japan, one of the world’s most notorious suicide locations and the backdrop of the main arc. Each vignette pushes you deeper into the darkness of Aokigahara, until you look around and realize there is no way back.
Bill, playing the role of the naïve narrator, serves as a fine point of view as Russell leads us through what is truly Junko’s journey. He’s American, fails to fully grasp the Japanese culture and sees their trek through the forest as something he can return from unchanged. The fact that his focus is mostly on Junko’s physical beauty and the potential for a liaison underscores how oblivious he is to the dark path she is leading him down.
The intertwining of the narratives, the naiveté of the narrator and the increasingly frantic Junko all spiral towards an inevitable conclusion, like a tightly controlled whirlpool from which there is no escape. Bottom line – read this book, however you can get your hands on it.