The wild trees A story of passion and daring

Richard Preston, 1954-

Book - 2007

Saved in:

2nd Floor Show me where

2 / 2 copies available
Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 585.5/Preston Checked In
2nd Floor 585.5/Preston Checked In
New York : Random House c2007.
1st ed
Physical Description
294 p. : ill., maps
Main Author
Richard Preston, 1954- (-)
Review by New York Times Review

DANA VACHON'S first novel begins with Tommy Quinn scanning the crowd gathered for the engagement party of his friend Roger Thorne. The 24-year-old casts his eyes on the investment bankers, the skinny women and their Botoxed mothers, the New York elite gathered at the Racquet & Tennis Club, a "limestone manse sitting like a sphinx on Park Avenue." Quinn applauds himself for being on "the most prosperous street in the most prosperous city in the most prosperous nation that ever lived." Standing on the club's terrace he feels he is "flying." The set-up is hoary - wide-eyed outsider comes to the vast metropolis. From it the novelist can go in two directions: he can give his character a sentimental education in big city life or he can make the world he enters so ridiculous that we can dismiss it without having to go. He can choose to be Thomas Wolfe, or Tom. At the novel's beginning it appears Vachon, himself a former investment banker, is going to give us Thomas. Quinn is sensitive: he is thinking of becoming a doctor and helping the poor - he would already have done so if his grades had gotten him into a better medical school. He had a brother who died young. His father has never recovered from not making partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore and has become a serial joiner - a "great sycophantic dynamo," who has just become a member of his eighth country club. There, at the Fourth of July cocktail party, young Quinn meets the alluring Frances Sloan. Frances uses phrases like "beautifully brutal" and says "between cradle and grave, in the end, there was nothing" (in French, no less). She is blond and depressed, and Quinn is hooked. The tree has met its ax, Scott his Zelda. They become a couple. As her mental problems become more serious, she begins to deliberately cut herself. Quinn has not bargained on being her full-time nurse. Part of a generation of "desperate young materialists" he is about to start work at J.S. Spenser, a prestigious investment bank. In the bank's training program, which he wittily describes as "affirmative action for the already affirmed," he meets Thorne, who is mad for sex, drugs and money and determined to drain the '00s of every drop. Thorne, a descendant of the WASP establishment, guides Quinn through the labyrinth of Spenser divisions until they find the red hot center, the mergers and acquisitions department led by Terence Mathers. "This guy is a rock star," Thorne realizes. "Let's hook it up. We've gotta get into the M&A group." Because Mathers used to "dog" Thorne's sister at Princeton, they do. In the division Thorne shines and Quinn stumbles: he botches an early deal in which the firm is trying to sell off some oil fields. Thorne next draws a bead on the Latin American mergers and acquisitions team led by Manuel Oliveira Rodrigo Orjuela de Navarro. "I think we need to rock it with Miguel," Thorne tells Quinn. "In fact, I think we need to rock it with Miguel big time!" Manuel succumbs to Thorne's charms, too - they do shots at a trendy nightclub with some Fashion Week models - and includes him and Quinn in a conference in Cabo, where the firm has rented a resort for "just a bit under a million dollars" to pursue Latin America's finanical elite. Thorne relieves Manuel of his beautiful girlfriend - "you're such a fine babe, babe," he tells her - while Quinn, "glaringly useless even by J.S. Spenser's standards," tries to hold Frances' scarred hand long-distance. One night a Latin plutocrat invites the Spenser bankers to a "Pirates of the Caribbean" party on his yacht, to celebrate his daughter's 16th birthday. Early in the party the D.J. plays a song of homage to commemorate Manuel's kidnapped cousin, a great dancer. Shortly after, Zapatistas, initially confused with costumed guests, attack the yacht and capture Manuel too. In the middle of extensive gunplay, Quinn saves Thorne's life by dropping a "$20,000 bottle of Champagne" on a Zapatista aiming an Uzi in his direction. "The Cristal crashed down on him, leaving only a mangled corpse and bloody bubbles that surged across the deck in a red tide," Quinn notes. He and Thorne wind up overboard and are washed up on a remote beach, eventually making their way back to civilization. Quinn and Frances are reunited. What a strange scene. It doesn't fit the book Vachon seems to be writing. If it did, then Frédéric Moreau would have run a dragoon through with a bayonet in "Sentimental Education" and Nick Carraway would have taken George Wilson's revolver and shot him dead by the pool. There's no reason "Mergers & Acquisitions" shouldn't choose Tom over Thomas as a model. The absurd world of Manhattan moneymaking is always a good subject. But the scene highlights the problem "Mergers & Acquisitions" has from the beginning. Vachon's broad comic tendency keeps intruding on the novel of manners he seems to want to write. This tonal puzzlement defeats "Mergers & Acquisitions" long before the events on the yacht jump the shark. Quinn is, for example, throughout the book saddened by the death of his promising older brother at prep school. That's an honorable if hackneyed plot device, undercut by the number of times Vachon mentions that what killed him was an egg roll fried in peanut oil. And is it funny to have Quinn and Frances at a dinner at Cipriani in which the main comedy comes from one of the guests' being a midget? And is it really appropriate for the initials of some Latin characters to form naughty anagrams (cast your eyes back to Manuel's full name)? New York relishes novelty, and novels that convey its flavor must capture this. Does this cultural observation by Quinn feel fresh to you?: "You could produce 90 minutes of rhesus monkeys playing Nerf football, and as long as you got the damn thing screened at Cannes people would want to know you for having done it." Quinn and his father shop at Brooks Brothers and he and his friends eat at Smith & Wollensky and Le Bilboquet. They do cocaine in bathrooms as if the world stopped in 1985. They talk on Motorola Razrs when the guys selling fake watches on Fifth have them. Socially the '00s may be the '80s all over again, but even so, no book purporting to bring us cultural news should be set in an M&A division in 2007. If Vachon's signifiers seem drawn at leisure, his prose feels hurried. The night Quinn and Frances first try to make love, Quinn says: "The louver doors breathed seawater and night as amid the dying flowers of summer we tried again and again to climb into one another." Frances' skin is "like alabaster dipped in sun." When "coils of honeysuckle platinum ... escaped" her pulled-back hairdo, they "hung down her temples like laurels." I think she would forgive him these clichés - she's hardly an original creation herself - but I think he should promise her one thing. After they finally do consummate, he fondles "her firm B-cup breasts." If the space between birth and death is really as short as Frances says it is, he at least owes her another way to put that. Quinn, about to start work at a prestigious bank, is part of a generation of 'desperate young materialists.' D. T. Max is the author of "The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [October 27, 2009] Review by Booklist Review

Preston's previous galvanizing best-sellers, including The Hot Zone0 (1994) and The Demon in the Freezer 0 (2002), deal with catastrophic viruses and biological weapons. Here he turns to a more uplifting subject, the world's tallest trees. Writing with his signature clarity and drama, Preston profiles a trio of champions of the coast redwood, "the blue whales of the plant kingdom." Botanist Steve Sillett developed acrobatic techniques for reaching the crowns of redwoods more than 300 feet tall. There he discovered an unknown world, the teeming temperate forest canopy, which Preston describes as "coral reefs in the air." Maverick Michael Taylor has discovered redwood giants in nearly impenetrable wilderness areas. So important are his finds, the locations of these redwood groves, some 3,000 years old, are kept secret. Marie Antoine also answered the call of redwoods and married fellow scientist Sillett in an arboreal ceremony. As for Preston, not content to merely watch from the ground, he underwent tree-climbing training and has assisted Sillett and Antoine in their invaluable, gravity-defying work. Preston's hands-on perspective, suspenseful chronicling of the adventures of these vividly portrayed redwood experts, and glorious descriptions of the tall trees' splendor and ecological significance make for a transfixing read. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2007 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this radical departure from Preston's bestsellers on catastrophic diseases (The Demon in the Freezer, etc.), he journeys into the perpendicular universe of the world's tallest trees. Mostly California redwoods, they are the colossal remnants of a lost world, some predating the fall of Rome. Suspended in their crowns, hundreds of feet above the forest floor, is a primeval kingdom of plants and animals that only a handful of people have ever seen. Now, thanks to Preston and a custom-made tree-climbing apparatus called a "spider rig," we get to see it, too. According to Preston, it wasn't until the 1980s that humans made the first forays into the tops of "supertall" trees, in excess of 350 feet high. The people who pioneered their exploration are a rarefied bunch-equal parts acrobat, adventurer and scientist. The book revolves around botanist Steve Sillett, an exceptional athlete with a tormented soul who found his calling while making a borderline suicidal "free" climb to the top of an enormous redwood in 1987, where he discovered a world of startling complexity and richness. More than 30 stories above the ground, he found himself surrounded by a latticework of fused branches hung with gardens of ferns and trees bearing no relation to their host. In this Tolkienesque realm of sky and wind, lichens abound while voles and salamanders live and breed without awareness of the earth below. At almost the exact moment that Sillett was having his epiphany in the redwood canopy, Michael Taylor, the unfocused son of a wealthy real estate developer, had a revelation in another redwood forest 200 miles to the south. Taylor, who had a paralyzing fear of heights, decided to go in search of the world's tallest tree. Their obsessive quests led these young men into a potent friendship and the discovery of some of the most extraordinary creatures that have ever lived. Preston's tireless research, crystalline writing style and narrative gifts are well suited to the subject. Sillett, Taylor and their cohorts, who include a Canadian botanist named Marie Antoine, are fascinating, often deeply wounded characters. Their collective passion and intensity have illuminated one of the most vulnerable and poorly understood ecosystems on this continent. Preston adds a personal twist by mastering the arcane tree climber's art of "skywalking" and partnering with Sillett and Antoine on some of their most ambitious ascents. As impressive as this is, Preston's cameo appearance disrupts the flow of the main narrative and somewhat dilutes its considerable power. John Vaillant is the author of The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed (Norton) and winner of the Canadian Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction (2005). (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Preston leaps from The Hot Zone into a grove of Sequoia sempervirens, or the California redwoods. With an 11-city tour. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Preston takes a break from nasty viruses (The Demon in the Freezer, 2002, etc.) to provide a firsthand account of climbing some of the world's tallest trees. His tale begins in 1987 with a group of college students visiting one of California's state forests to climb a tall redwood. One of them, Steve Sillet, became a botanist studying the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, where redwoods and the related giant sequoias are the dominant species. Despite relentless clear-cutting in the years before they were protected by law, several California redwoods rise above 360 feet; they are the largest and possibly the oldest living things on Earth. Preston, who met Sillet after doing some climbing in Eastern forests using techniques learned in an arborist school in Georgia, quickly found that redwoods present an entirely different challenge. Tree trunks often rise 200 feet before putting out branches strong enough to hold a rope. Coached by Sillet and his wife, Marie Antoine, the author began to learn special techniques for scaling redwoods and eventually joined their expedition to climb tall eucalyptus trees in Australia. Ascending the redwoods was a revelation. The rainforest's crown supports entire ecologies found nowhere else: lichens, birds, reptiles, even whole trees of other species growing in the soil that accumulates on the redwoods' high branches. The trees are constantly growing and changing, and a large tree's slow death (often after more than 2,000 years) causes radical changes in the forest around it. The book ends with an August 2006 expedition in collaboration with redwood enthusiast Michael Taylor during which was found a new record-holder for the world's highest tree. In between, Preston's text covers everything from rainforest ecology to the lives of the scientists and dedicated amateurs who study it, with a strong emphasis on the sheer beauty of the forest canopy as seen up close. Enthralling. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.