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The Trees in the Field introduces us to 50-year-old Raybelle McKeehan, Senator from Tennessee, single-minded in fairness and her dedication to freedom. In Raybelle’s world, those tenets are not just applicable to members of her party, but are for all her constituents, as well as for the people of the world community.
When the Senator meets Dr. Tomas (pronounced To-mahs’) Jefferson, a cool-as-a-cucumber scientist, the two women approach each other cautiously, figuratively circling as they try to take the measure of one another. Tomas is outspoken but she is also concerned with not mincing words. Raybelle, ever the politician, always measures her speech carefully. It is doubtful these two will ever find common ground.
Raybelle’s personal tale is one of unique dedication to her political life. Her political life has been without blame or misstep. But, as a result, Raybelle doesn’t have a personal life. As events unfold, she is forced to reflect on her lonely past, and she realizes that remaining as she always has been will allow her to forge ahead to her higher political aspirations. However, opening herself to new possibilities in her personal life could bring the companionship and love she’s missed in her younger years. Each calls for sacrifices, and Raybelle must decide which sacrifices she’s willing to make.
Dr. Jefferson, although she was once in a long-term relationship, has been single for years. She hasn’t needed “that kind” of relationship, or so she thinks. Once she meets Raybelle McKeehan, though, she realizes there is something that draws her to the Senator over and over again. This phenomenon, which Tomas finds a curiosity, causes her to rehash her affair from years past—over and over. At first, in her aloofness, she refuses to accept any blame for her part in her breakup. But this new path may force her into facing her own responsibility for the failed relationship, and her insights might finally allow her to discover her potential for new love.
At first, the story is filled with description and dialog coming in short, clipped sentences that give us a vivid picture of the two main characters. They are both no-nonsense, no-time-to-waste, no “BS” kind of women. However, this proves to be their undoing as they spend their first few encounters trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to fit together in relationship to one another. That initial portrayal is quick, taut, economical, and much like the two women themselves.
This story is all about the sacrifices of wars: that of women and men in service—Raybelle’s own brother a troubled Viet Nam vet. It ‘s about jockeying in military committees, and how political battles are waged. It’s about the power-hungry and the impotent. It’s about real and imagined combat, about thugs and warriors, and interior and exterior wars. It’s about political and personal wars and the sacrifices made as a result of them. In some cases, it’s about the sacrifices of the weak, those who have no options against the will of men (or women) of power.
Bad-guys lurk in surprising corners, dark with political intrigue. Unlikely friends become improbable teachers, and friends reveal their true colors. Raybelle gets herself into trouble by sticking to her principles, and Tomas finds herself an unwitting partner in Raybelle’s difficulties. The story is a voyage for both women, forcing each to take a look at their own life’s motivations as they try to save a tiny, little-known island in the Pacific, whose inhabitants have had to sacrifice so much. Success or failure may determine the future for these two women, and it may be a very different future than either can imagine.
Knowles has given us a thoughtful political essay wrapped in a compelling story with a unique voice. Villains lurk and struggles abound. The characters are distinctive, pulling the reader along the story line to find out if the relationship between Raybelle and Tomas has any hope in succeeding. However, the story is so much more than it appears on the surface. There are undercurrents to be considered, and they ebb and flow through this story like ocean tides. The Trees in the Field is an absorbing presentation of political intrigue as well as a satisfying romance.
The Trees in the Field
By J.E. Knowles
Paperback, 9781594932809, 288 pp.