LANDSCAPE WITH TREES is Johanna Fox’s first novel; she is working on two others, including Learning to Drown, scheduled for publication in 2015.

LANDSCAPE WITH TREES is Johanna Fox’s first novel; she is working on two others, including Learning to Drown, scheduled for publication in 2015.

In “Landscape With Trees,” Johanna Fox explores how life is altered by early, life-changing decisions that the main character, Marie, finds that she is repenting a few years later.

Set in some indeterminate time in the nottoo distant past, Marie marries, like most of her friends, right out of high school. Unlike many of her friends, however, she does not immediately settle down and begin producing children; she and her husband move to a town where he has good prospects, and she goes to college.



Her husband Ned is, in Marie’s own estimation, good and kind and generous. He encourages her education, and her interest in music. But he, like Marie, is also somewhat selfabsorbed, and fails to notice her interest in a music professor who excites her in a way that good, kind Ned cannot.

Marie leaves him for Gene, gets her own tiny apartment, which she cannot afford on her small salary working at the college, and is devastated when Gene leaves her shortly thereafter.

She retreats to her childhood home, to her hypercritical mother and her gentle, kind father who is so much like Ned. She doesn’t know what she is planning for the future, but in the few months she spends with her parents, she is learning that, while some things can’t be salvaged, some things should be rescued.

Her mother, Betty, expects that the childhood rules be kept. Marie is expected home at 5 for supper, expected to keep the house hours, including an early bedtime, and expected to keep her mother apprised of where she is at all times.

Marie is grieving, not for the end of the marriage, but for the loss of a dream. Her expectations of married life contrasted sharply with the reality of married life, as seen through the eyes of her friend Evelyn, who married her childhood sweetheart and has several children.

Evelyn’s attitude toward her family is not perfect; she’s glad when her husband and sons leave for periods of time, she gratefully drops her baby daughter off to her mother so she can have some time alone. She insists on at least one evening a week with her husband, convenient or not, and gently, she leads Marie to some hard truths — that Marie is still missing Gene, and that, in Evelyn’s opinion, Marie should try to save her marriage to Ned.

Marie, however, isn’t convinced. She has come to believe that her attraction to the music professor was a stand-in for her desire to go into music. She is, however, gripped with self-doubt. Does she have enough talent? What would she do with a music degree except teach, which she does not want to do?

In the meantime, she helps her mother can and root cellar the harvest, and disposes of her young adult wardrobe, including her own wedding dress, systematically dispensing with the potential, both of the real summer and her own summer, as the weather grows cold, dark and threatening.

As she comes to realize she must leave her family home a second time, this time as an independent woman, not as a married dependent, she decides to follow that first, earlier dream of a career in music. Her time at home has helped her to realize that failure isn’t the worst possible thing that can occur; she is ready and willing to take a chance on herself.

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