The dark side of the 1960s returns to haunt a contemporary Los Angeles family in this new novel from a critically acclaimed author. Prefect for readers of Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.
by Max Ludington
St. Martin’s Press, January 2024
From the acclaimed author of Tiger in a Trance (Doubleday, 2003) comes a suspenseful and beautifully wrought novel about the aftershocks of the late 1960s and the relationship between trauma and the creative impulse. Now in his seventies, 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 landlord and neighbor to Celia, a charismatic but fragile actress living in the main house on his property. 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 re-ignite 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 is an utterly-compelling novel.
Max Ludington’s first novel, Tiger in a Trance was a New York Times Notable Book. He received his M.F.A. from Columbia University and now lives in New York. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Tin House, Meridian, Nerve, and On the Rocks: The KGB Bar Fiction Anthology.