Family Tree (Susan Wiggs)

August 15, 2016 Book Reviews 10 ★★★★½

Family Tree (Susan Wiggs)Family Tree on Aug. 9, 2016
Pages: 368
Purchase: Amazon
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For readers of Kristin Hannah and Jodi Picoult comes a powerful, emotionally complex story of love, loss, the pain of the past—and the promise of the future.

Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes.

Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Manhattan home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child.

But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a year-long coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she's lost.

Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned ex-cop. And with the discovery of a cookbook her grandmother wrote in the distant past, Annie unearths an age-old mystery that might prove the salvation of the family farm.

Family Tree is the story of one woman’s triumph over betrayal, and how she eventually comes to terms with her past. It is the story of joys unrealized and opportunities regained. Complex, clear-eyed and big-hearted, funny, sad, and wise, it is a novel to cherish and to remember.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.


Susan Wiggs’s recent fiction digs deeply into family relationships and the choices we make—and in this case, the paths not chosen as well. Told mostly in alternating chapters or sections (labeled Now and Then), Family Tree is the story of Annie Rush’s loves: for cooking, for film, for her family, and for her high school and college sweetheart and the man she eventually married. It’s a warm and thoughtful novel and one of the best I’ve read this year.

The novel opens in the present with a typical morning for Annie. As the creator and producer of the cooking show she created starring her chef husband, she is responsible for a million and one details—and this morning, she’s also the subject of an interview by a major news outlet. But the morning ends in disaster as a piece of equipment fails and Annie is injured.

That sequence, long as it is, is merely the setup for the main part of the novel. In the Now sections, Annie slowly emerges from a year-long coma to find that her life is changed forever: her husband has divorced her, and she’s back in the town where she grew up. As she tries to recover her memory, rebuild her strength, and decide where to go with her life, we’re swept into her memories of the past (the Then sections.) Past and present each offer insights into the other. As the reader, I think I had a better sense of where Annie was headed than she did herself, in part because while most of the scenes are shown in limited third person from Annie’s point of view, some are told instead from others’ POV: her mother Caroline, her first love Fletcher. Those scenes work to build a more complete picture, not only of Annie but of her family and the other significant people in her life. As a result, I cared as much about some of the other characters as I did about Annie herself.

Wiggs excels at descriptive writing without ever overdoing it. I could taste Annie’s recipes, feel the crisp, invigorating coldness of a Vermont winter during sugaring season, see the kitchen where her beloved Gran taught her to cook. But the focus of the novel is on the relationships, and there Wiggs shows a deep understanding of the human heart, and of the desires, hurts, and needs that shape each of us into the people we become. It’s not only Annie’s relationships and choices but also those of other characters that come to life, particularly Fletcher and his father and Annie’s mother and father.

My only complaint with the whole book is that Annie’s life is exceptional both before and after the accident. She succeeds in her chosen career early and spectacularly; after the accident, once she begins to emerge from the coma, she recovers surprisingly well and quickly. Although Annie is warned that she will be a different person, and there are hints of some level of brain injury initially (she’s more prone to blurting things out, for instance), both her physical and mental recovery are remarkably complete. I have no idea how plausible that is, but it certainly must be rare after TBI with such a prolonged coma. Despite that, the characters as well as the connections between them all feel very real and familiar; I was completely caught up in their story.

Ultimately, Family Tree is about hope and rediscovering who we truly are and what we truly want. In Annie’s world, disaster can be overcome and second chances can be grasped, as long as you have the courage and the heart to do so.


A final note: I wish there were a cookbook to accompany the book. There are so many delicious recipes described that I would love to try. I will probably end up googling to try to find similar recipes online!


About Susan Wiggs

Susan Wiggs self-published her first book when she was eight years old. Since then, she has acquired degrees at SFA and Harvard, taught math, and published over 35 books, including contemporary fiction, historical and contemporary romance, a children’s book and a book on planning your wedding.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • COYER Summer Vacation 2016

10 Responses to “Family Tree (Susan Wiggs)”

  1. Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library

    I don’t mind a certain level of unrealistic from Wiggs because I enjoy her writing so much but I can see how it would seem like a stretch after I finished! This does sound good. I’ve hesitated to pick this one up because the premise didn’t really grab me all that much but I should’ve known that a Wiggs book is always a great read!
    Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library recently posted…Ramblings from the Stacks – My Back to School Reading ListMy Profile

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I was hesitant during the first section; it didn’t start out like my kind of book at all. But I should have trusted Wiggs—as you say, she’s always a good read!

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I really like her Lakeshore Chronicles romances, and I loved The Apple Orchard and The Beekeeper’s Ball. I keep hoping for a third book in that series. Family Tree is more along the lines of The Apple Orchard and The Beekeeper’s Ball; it’s fiction about a family, with romance thrown in, rather than being romance with family thrown in, the way the Lakeshore Chronicles are.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I think you’ll enjoy it. I suspect most of the recipes can be googled. The barrel-aged maple syrup is a real thing, too.

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I think you would love it! I did; she made it feel real and made me care about all the characters (except the scumbag ex-husband.)