⇒Fruit enjoys a prominent place in literature. Vegetables, less so. I wonder why that is. After all, the organic world is rich in metaphorical possibilities, and I don’t see why pieces of fruit should have a greater place in literature than, say, carrots or parsnips or green beans.
I suppose the role of fruit in a work of fiction is dictated by the story’s cultural framework: tradition, folklore, environment. Pomegranates are very literary, apples and plums and peaches and watermelons all have their place, all have their different cultural associations. No one seems interested in writing a story about parsnips, though.
Megan Byrne’s beautiful story “The Tree Planted by Water,” is about cherries. Cherries are very literary. Naturally, having my mind in the gutter most days, I associate cherries with sex: innocence, virginity, “popping one’s cherry,” so to speak. But cherries carry overtones of more than just sexual discovery, of erotic pleasure. Cherries are often sour. Cherries have pits one can choke on. Sometimes the birds get to the cherries before people do. And as beautiful and delicious as a good, ripe cherry may be, a rotten cherry is pretty gross. So there’s a lot you can do, symbolically, with this little fruit.
Let’s talk about the story, which does some really magical, visceral stuff with this central motif. This is a very tactile story, conveying a lot of different feelings and textures. This story uses cherries for violent effect, which perhaps tells us a little about what makes such fruit good candidates for a story. Think of the language of cherries: sweet, sour, bitter, flesh, pit, juice, bleed, smash, crush, smear, drain. I can think of a lot of violent imagery that comes with cherries, but the story’s author comes up with many more. This is a violent story in some ways, but a gentle and innocent story in others.
Basically, the first-person piece follows a young girl who lives with her parents. They live high on a mountain. They have a cherry tree orchard. They live above the clouds. Her mother has a bit of a superstition about cherries and their pits. She says her grandmother killed her grandfather with a cherry pie. The girl’s father has a friend, a neighbor, with whom his relationship is nebulously defined. Her father and this “friend” go off to “talk” privately and leave the girl alone downstairs to drink cherry tea and flip through old books. As readers, we make various inferences about the nature of the relationship between the father and his female “friend,” as well as about the state of the two parents’ relationship.
The author does some really incredible stuff with voice and POV. On the one hand, this story is related by and filtered through the mentality of a young girl, someone who is innocent to the problems of adults. On the other hand, we have an incredibly rich poetic lexicon through which the descriptions of cherries and tea and cherry trees and characters are described. The voice is very mature, very sophisticated, which the reader would normally see as a problem; after all, how can a young girl have such a rich, mature vocabulary? The author merges adult and child-speak very deftly. The language is so beautiful and has enough bits of youthful diction that it reads as authentic, even if the voice is a fiction, a product of craft.
The lesson for writers is that they don’t have to shy away from a young person’s voice. With enough attention to detail in language, this ostensibly immature voice can actually tell a very beautiful, powerful story. It helps to focus on objects like the cherries, which have a fairly universal power to them, and convey the story’s significance well beyond the protag/narrator’s realm of understanding.
Go read this gorgeous story.