The Witness Tree

Fiction - Womens
316 Pages
Reviewed on 05/10/2021
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Author Biography

Welcome! I sprouted amid the small towns and logging jobs of northern Wisconsin with four naughty sisters who still make me laugh and keep me grounded. The Witness Tree sprang from stories of folklore and real characters that flavor this place I call home. Esther and Helen are very dear to my heart. They are strong, feisty, mischievous, no nonsense women that face their demons with courage and resilience. I still live in northern Wisconsin with my husband and a herd of deer that check in every night. The pristine lakes and lush forests play a significant role in my stories and continually fuel my imagination.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Cheryl E. Rodriguez for Readers' Favorite

The Witness Tree by Terri Morrison Kaiser is a heart-wrenching story of love and loss. One hundred years ago, on the banks of the Redemption River in Wisconsin, a tree was designated as the boundary marker for the adjacent property. This tree was named The Witness Tree. The tree stood as a bystander seeing all, even after a storm caused it to collapse. Or could it be the burden of knowing so many secrets that hollowed the tree to the core? One fateful day, a young boy climbs the trunk and finds skeletal remains hidden inside. No one in Peeksville, WI was prepared for the discovery, especially Helen Foley. Helen and her family had once lived on the farm bordering The Witness Tree. After Helen’s mother Esther dies, Helen sells the farm, hoping to leave the past in the past. She moves into town, trying to escape the memories of her unfortunate childhood. Yet, the past has a way of returning in unexpected ways. The Witness Tree wants its story told, whether Helen wants it or not.

Terri Morrison Kaiser pens an exceptional story in The Witness Tree. Kaiser’s writing style is beautifully descriptive, drawing the reader into the setting. You feel and experience the river’s power, the yearning for love, and the desperate pleas of hope, the bruising of both body and soul as you see through the eyes of The Witness Tree. The poetic artistry of the tree and the sparrow are eloquently meaningful; these two symbolic metaphors battle against the raging conflict, their essence breathes life and hope into heartbreak. The characterization is written masterfully. Both main characters share their stories. From chapter to chapter the perspective changes from Esther’s to Helen’s point of view. The plot builds, the intensity peaks as each woman reveals what has been hidden away for years. The question, will history repeat itself, is the fibrous fearful theme weaved throughout the tale. Through the denouement, Kaiser’s expert storytelling heightens, and then becomes shockingly revelatory, blending the then and now. The Witness Tree is brilliantly riveting from beginning to end.

Edith Wairimu

The Witness Tree by Terri Kaiser is a remarkable multi-generational women’s novel about violence, tragedy, and the possibility of love. Bound by her husband’s cruel, unrelenting anger, Esther Foley feels trapped in her violent marriage. Together with her two children, they live in constant fear of Esther’s husband, Harlon. When a neighbor moves in close to their property, Esther rediscovers parts of herself she thought were gone. Her moments with Robert Sommers provide an escape from the misery of her marriage. The discovery of human remains in what was her family’s property brings back bitter memories for Helen Foley. She navigates the new, unsettling information alongside other aspects of her past while rebuilding her relationship with her niece.

The Witness Tree by Terri Kaiser includes themes about family relationships, mystery, and romance. Set between two periods, the story explores the place of women in the 1940s and the crushing effects of domestic violence. Beyond the tragic events, there is hope as Helen revisits and deals with her family’s past and reconnects with an old flame. As one of the main characters, Helen is fascinating. She is direct and adamant. Her conversations with other characters in the novel are humorous. The romance included in the novel moderates the more emotive scenes. The outcome of Esther's and her children’s circumstances is unpredictable. The novel’s pace is also steady and the climax is spellbinding. The Witness Tree by Terri Kaiser recounts the events surrounding a tragic night when devastating secrets emerge which bring back heart-breaking family memories.

K.C. Finn

The Witness Tree is a work of fiction in the women’s literature genre penned by author Terri Morrison Kaiser. It is aimed at mature readers, owing to the presence of some violence and moderate sexual content. The book follows two women in the Foley family across two generations after the discovery of human remains leads Helen Foley to confront the decisions that her mother Esther made to find a better life for them both. The book tells the stories of both Esther, as she commits an act of mad desperation that forever scars the family history, and Helen, as she is forced to confront the truth of where her family came from and what they have done.

Author Terri Morrison Kaiser has delivered a highly engaging literary fiction novel that features family history at the forefront of suspense in a very uniquely crafted way. One of the most enjoyable things about this novel was Kaiser’s ability to craft well-thought-out and relatable characters. Both Esther and Helen are a joy to follow and I particularly loved the story being narrated by both characters which I felt offered a deeper insight into the past and present. The story tells a beautiful tale that demonstrates the high and lows of life whilst still sending an overall message of hope. The Witness Tree is a story that will appeal to a wide audience as it has elements of romance, mystery, and history, which are tied together masterfully. I would not hesitate to recommend The Witness Tree to fans of books that offer an emotional and thought-provoking journey, and those readers looking for a vivid and imaginative story.

Vincent Dublado

The prologue in Terri Kaiser’s The Witness Tree descriptively shows the central object of this story with such sensory power that you know this novel is going to be powerful and devastating. It sustains its exciting mystery by daring to tell the story of two women from different time periods. When skeletal remains are found at Helen Foley’s old farm, a dark past comes back to haunt her. The remains were hidden inside a hollowed basswood tree. Whatever happened took place a long time ago. The plot jumps in detailed flashbacks to Esther Foley, Helen’s mother, who lived a difficult life. The bad memories of Esther’s marriage to a difficult man made her find refuge with a neighbor named Robert Sommers. Such forbidden love means taking a considerable risk and defying the odds. The basswood tree will bear witness to their relationship and serve as a custodian of the evidence of a dark past. It is up to Helen to rectify matters to find redemption not only for herself but for her family.

Terri Kaiser explores profound moral questions about love and suffering and how we navigate through moral norms to free ourselves and find the happiness that we deserve. The disturbing violence becomes justified for the sake of self-defense especially when it is triggered by the psychosis of a family member. By giving her characters narrative monologues in which they talk about their lives, Kaiser gives her story a three-dimensional feel by making you feel that Helen and Esther are talking directly to you. From start to finish, The Witness Tree manages to sustain its depth and dimension so that the image of the old basswood tree lingers in your mind. This is storytelling at its finest, and you are missing out if you fail to read this book.

Rabia Tanveer

The Witness Tree by Terri Kaiser is the story of the Foley women as they navigate life and figure it out one day at a time. The story focuses on Esther and Helen, mother and daughter respectively. Esther’s story is set in the 1940s as she tries her best to leave her abusive past behind and offer a normal life to her children. Her salvation comes in the form of the kind Robert Sommers who helps her find the courage to be the woman she once was and give her children a better life. Her daughter Helen’s story is set in the present where she faces her own challenges to beat. She, too, has to face the demons of her past, and she cannot run from them. The Foley family secrets are after her, and they will only let her go if she faces them once and for all. Does she have the courage to open old wounds and let them bleed?

Terri Kaiser handles two different narratives exceptionally well. Helen’s character is more poised, while Esther’s character is more desperate. Both of these women have faced incredible circumstances, and so they had to take incredible actions to survive. They have a goal, and they don’t deter from it. They know they cannot run from their past, so they try to find the courage to do so. For Esther, that courage came from Robert and her desperation, while Helen truly had to fight her demons to get that courage. The narrative flows smoothly until the end, and the author adds just the right amount of mystery and suspense to keep the story moving forward. The letters and the ring become the connection we need between the two narratives and allows the reader to experience two highly detailed and entertaining stories at the same time. The narrative style of The Witness Tree reminds me of Toni Morrison. I thoroughly enjoyed it.