The King in the Tree
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
A master of literary transformation, Pulitzer Prize-winner Steven Millhauser turns his attention to the transformations of love in these three hypnotic novellas. While ostensibly showing her home to a prospective buyer, the narrator of “Revenge” unfolds an origami-like narrative of betrayal and psychic violence. In “An Adventure of Don Juan” the legendary seducer seeks out new diversion on an English country estate with devastating results. And the title novella retells the story of Tristan and Ysolt from the agonized perspective of King Mark, a husband who compulsively looks for evidence of his wife’s adultery yet compulsively denies what he finds. Combining enchantment as ancient as Sheherezade’s with up-to-the-minute acuity and unease, The King in the Tree is Millhauser at his best.
him. Nearby, a bearded man with burning eyes stood up to his chin in a pool of black water. “Here’s a jolly fellow,” Hood was saying. “Behold Tantalus—a precious rogue, whom Virgil omits from his masked ball. ’Tis from Homer I fetched him hence.” Tantalus, licking his dry lips, bent to drink from the water, which sank away from him; and raising his weary head, he reached for the fruit that hung just beyond his grasp, his eyes dark with remorse and longing. “ ’Tis well represented, Augustus,”
the water to the girl, who bent over his hands to drink. From under the tree Juan watched, not hidden from view though protected by the shade; and as he watched, keeping very still so as not to startle them, he had the sense that the boy had caught sight of him on the slope across the stream— indeed, he was certain of it, for the boy began glancing deliberately in his direction—and soon the girl began casting quick looks at him, the dark stranger watching in the shade. But instead of growing
the barely suppressed scorn of those words, but Brangane had already leaped past them. “I know her. I know Ysolt the Fair. I fear—” She paused. “You fear she may do something?” “I fear her unhappiness,” she said tiredly. Then: “The King watches her.” “The King loves her.” She ignored me. “You are close to the King. You know where he goes—when he goes—” “You’re asking me to spy on the King?” She looked at me with impatience. “I am asking you to see that no harm comes to anyone.” Already she
his lips pulled back over bared teeth. This night I woke from a troubling dream of Tristan—he lay wounded and bleeding under a tree—and seemed to hear a sound coming from Tristan’s chamber. I sat up, listening intently. There could be no doubt: someone was stirring in Tristan’s chamber. I rose, put on my robes and sword belt, and stepped from my room to Tristan’s door, which was open a hand’s width. When I entered his chamber I saw in the moon-streaked darkness a figure seated on the side of
shaping his sorrow to the gaze of crowds. His grief is deep but measured; it flows readily into the ancient forms forged by generations of mourners. It is too early to imagine the King’s happiness. But it is not too early to imagine the diminution of his unhappiness. The death of Tristan and the Queen is easier for everyone to bear than their life. There have been changes at court. Modor has been made guardian of the King’s tower, a post he holds proudly. He stands with a sharp-tipped ash spear