Treees by Stephen Michael McDowell
Buttercup McGuillicuddy is a Tao Lin for the Tinychat generation. ‘Treees’ is a touching look at being a twenty-something in America today. Spoiler alert: it is confusing to be a twenty-something in America. I remember Suicide’s lyric, sung decades ago that went ‘America is killing its youth’. Feel that the young all over the world are being neglected and ignored, left to their own devices. Clearly that happens in this book.
The parents in this book are good parents. Aiden tries to live a normal life. For this normal life he finds himself in bizarre places. Older people speak to him. He is disinterested. Most of these older people are his parents, members of the church, and various family friends. Do they want the best for Aiden? Probably but they don’t really do much. Rather they have a ‘holding pattern’ where they pick him up, feed him, and let him hang out at home. Home is where the heart is anyway.
Poor Aiden: trees mess with him. What can he say back to the trees? Trees have heard it all. After trees scream things at people they watch them walk or run away. Clearly trees are the victors in any interaction. Once a tree dominated my face after I ran into it. Did I cry? I did. People around me laughed. Since then I wear glasses as a reminder.
Internet interactions make up the emotion core of the story. Video chats are a way of merging the real and internet lives. This is something of an easing in for the story. Background is provided in the beginning. Tinychats happen. Aiden get rejected from Tinychat. Clearly Tinychat is a drug. One can become addicted to Tinychat. Initial rejection is a warning. Yet Aiden dives headfirst into it. For many Tinychat is a siren call leading to late-nights staring at a glowing screen.
Baltimore is the main center for Aiden’s life. Out of everything in the entire book the setting is the bleakest. Baltimore is indifferent to its fate as a city. Baltimore is the city that gave up. This is why Aiden leaves Baltimore multiple times over the course of the book. He meets wonderful people in better cities. With the internet he doesn’t even need to focus on Baltimore’s griminess.
Whoever the goat is remains one of those classic Baltimore people. Those well-known Baltimore party people terrify me. Anything they do is insane. Picture that but with a literal goat. Everything the goat does is crazed. Parts of Baltimore come up (Charles Village, the Ottobar) which make sense to me. Aiden knows about what is hip.
Cora is the heart of the story. It is sad. This is what our relationships are. Falling in love is harder with geography. We think we can conquer it with technology. But technology, while intimate, is nowhere as intimate as real life. Aiden loves Cora so hard. Everything he thinks about it is about her. As he makes a sandwich he thinks about her. Blogs get a shout-out in this story. Even blogs add to the emotional weight of our decisions. Of course I am impervious to blog coverage as I’m just a 39 year old sloth father of three beautiful sloth children. No one will ever cover me on their blog. My situation is entirely different from Aiden who finds a video of himself on a blog.
G-chat forms the pivotal moments in Aiden’s life. Using technology to express his feelings, he fails and succeeds simultaneously. Thanks to the distance of the medium he avoids making particularly bad decisions. Mostly they are fairly decent ones. Love on the internet is a strange beast indeed, much like those angry trees mocking poor Aiden.
Happy to see this big beautiful thing from one of alt lit’s shooting stars. Where is Buttercup going to end up after all these beautiful stories? Can I ever refer to Buttercup by his real name? Did he ever decide to ‘eff up’ any of those trees? Get it to find out. Support Buttercup, a true man among mere bros.