The title story of Michael Eisele's new collection from Tartarus is, as one might expect, a substantial tale. The novella concerns Arv, a gifted carver of a tribe that lives near the Great River. Arv's people have no boats, but a neighbouring tribe have mastered the art of canoe-building. Arv is fascinated by the sight of a passing boat, not to mention the beautiful woman he sees in it.
We are back in tribal territory, a world before or possibly after civilisation as we know it. Arv's tribe is a Matriarchy, and he is less than pleased when the female ruler decrees that he will marry her less-than-charming daughter. To sugar the pill Arv is given a high-status task, carving a totemic image on a new longhouse. However, when he goes off into the woods he has very different intentions.
A great tree has been struck by lightning and Arv believes that he can - using stone tools - craft it into a boat. The tree spirit has other ideas, however, and it only thanks to the intervention of a character called Hunter that Arv manages to strike a deal with the dryad-like being. Hunter is, incidentally, one character who seems to resemble a 'modern' American, and his remarks to Arv suggest that we are indeed living in a post-apocalyptic future. But this might just be down to my misinterpretation.
Anyway, Arv makes his boat with Hunter's help, and carves the face of the lovely boatwoman into its stern post. When his betrothed finds out what he's been up to she calls the wrath of the tribe down on him. So, with Hunter's help, Arv launches the boat onto the Great River and sets off downstream. There he encounters the tribe of his muse, and becomes the focus of respectful attention. However, there is a final twist to the tale, as Arv and the tree spirit embark on another journey.
This is, I feel, an artist's story, carved as carefully as Arv's boat. There is enough material here for an entire novel about the various cultures of this tribal world, which is lovingly depicted but never presented as a kind of touchy-feely Utopia.
More from Tree Spirit and Other Strange Tales soon in this running review.