Title: Sea of Trees
Author: Robert James Russell
Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing, 2012
First off, this was definitely a pleasant surprise to read a novella with absolutely no expectations—just to ease into it and *really* enjoy the story. Sea of Trees is a minimalist examination of mankind’s relationship with suicide, with particular emphasis on the phenomena surrounding Aokigahara Forest on the slopes of Mount Fuji in Japan.
I’d heard of the “suicide forest” but had never read up much about it until I read Sea of Trees and to know that this place really exists, chills and fascinates by equal measure. I dare you to go look it up. It’s fascinating—absolutely totally fascinating. Macabre, yes, I admit it, but definitely a rich topic for conversation that is soaked in monomyths.
Bill, the narrator, accompanies his girlfriend, Junko, into the forest seemingly so that she can lay her dead sister’s memory to rest. But the journey into this primordial wilderness unlocks a darkness Bill is not prepared for. Those of you who are familiar with the writings of Joseph Campbell will see correspondences with the Hero’s Journey.
Complementing the primary story arc are a selection of vignettes, of the lives of those who have sought out Aokigahara in order to seek solace in death. Chilling, these nevertheless carry with a ring of authenticity Russell executes masterfully.
Perhaps this novella resonated with me due to my own brushes with suicide, but in any case, Russell deals sensitively with the topic, exploring mankind’s fascination with death. Especially for those who realise that the ones desiring death literally feel there is no other way to resolve their situation. I cannot underscore how much I absolutely *love* this novella. Russell’s definitely made it to my list of rare finds for 2012. If you’re looking for a tale that will chill you, give you pause for thought and immerse you in a vivid world existing beneath a gloomy forest canopy, then go read this novella.