All the characters in James Gregor’s debut novel are horrible people, but I couldn’t help but root for them. Richard is a Ph.D. candidate struggling with writer’s block. His classmate Anne helps him by doing his work for him, buying him fancy meals and paying for taxis. In return, she expects a romantic relationship, and he is happy to oblige—despite being gay. It all comes to a head when things get serious between Richard and a former online fling. He is forced to choose between the handsome lawyer, who’s definitely husband material (even if he’s a little too into Ayn Rand), and the woman who holds the key to his academic success. Going Dutch pokes fun at online dating, New York intellectuals, money and manners. Narrator Michael David Axtell infuses Richard’s inner monologues with wry humor, making his observations even more biting.
It’s easy to imagine cities as disconnected from the natural world, but The City Tree is an excellent reminder that nature can flourish where it’s nurtured.