The Tree Museum — by Kathleen Kaufman

Tree Museum
The Tree Museum

Kathleen Kaufman

Recommendation: don’t read

I have a fantasy about how humanity will be perfected when I am put in charge. Not installed bureaucratically, you understand, but as one with full dictatorial powers. As Emperor William I, everything—and I mean everything—will be put in order. And fast. Arnie’s answer to What is Best in Life? will be operational within minutes of my coronation: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.”

Frankly, I can’t see how this scheme wouldn’t work. Try to point out any logical inconsistencies or historical evidence about why I won’t get my way, and I will close my ears and ignore you. My belief cannot be abjured.

I’m far from the only self-blind Utopian. Kathleen Kaufman is one, too, but her fantasy is more banal. It’s the standard Green one, which asserts that humanity will achieve Grace when: (1) businessmen and their businesses are no more, (2) people are skinny, (3) all are vegetarian, (4) oil which “causes all those wars” disappears, (5) the guns and munitions used to fight those wars vanish, (6) all farming is “organic”, (7) people are crammed and stacked into a small as space as possible, living four and five to a room (come to think of it, that’s how I live), and (8) “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, i.e. people are forced to “fulfill their purposes”. And money won’t matter. All these elements are found in The Tree Museum.

Nothing much is happening in a small California town except that Walmart—I mean PricePlan—moves in and irritates our heroine Rosemary and her loony husband Nate. Nate spends most of the book having imaginary conversations with Judd Hirsch, but not as Judd Hirsch, and instead in his role in a TV show called Dear John. Why? I wasn’t able to figure it out. Maybe it’s because Nate also has conversations with half dozen more TV show characters. I won’t be spoiling anything by telling you that they don’t whisper sweet nothings to Nate. They suggest, in bold language, that young Nate attempt certain uncivilized activities.

One day, and suddenly, “Waitresses,” automatons dressed as ’50s car hops, appear and materialize items to those who ask. Everything is free, but greed is punished. Somebody who asks for a bunch of cars or watches vanishes! As do all “greedy businessmen” who “wear suits.” Poof! Gone in a flash of light. These waitresses mean business. Or they are mean to businesses, because shortly after businessmen have been dealt with, their Mecca, PricePlan, also bites it.

Not all need cower in fear, however, because signs—produced mysteriously by the “Signmakers”, the entities responsible for the waitresses—usually appear to give warning so that one can mend one’s ways. The signs are almost always admonitory or corrective in nature, but a few announce upcoming measures like moving from “Phase Two” to “Phase Three”. I produce a simulacrum of one below.

Who are these strange Signmakers and why are they killing (Kaufman prefers the euphemism permanently removing) people? Standard communistic blood lust? We never learn. That’s OK with me. Kaufman can keep her secret. But what flummoxes me is that nobody—for months—seems to think the Waitresses and their terrors worthy of discussion. After the Signmakers come, characters make small adjustments to their lives, but largely ignore what’s going on around them. We’re not even sure, and nobody seems to care, until half-way through and years later that what’s happening in California is also occurring anywhere else in the world.

It is obvious, though, what the intent of the Signmakers is. Their purpose is to correct humanity’s ungreen, capitalistic behaviors, and to teach them—the hard way—that they’d better get along and stop killing each other and the planet or they will be killed.

This is Kaufman’s first novel, which was obvious even before I read the blurb because she made her heroine—wait for it—a writer. A frustrated one, anyway. And nearly every chapter, and there are 75 of them in this 258-page book, contains a digression. These, sometimes frustrating, anecdotes fill pages and pages, though they are a necessity because there isn’t much happening and, as said, there are no explanations for anything, though she does manages to throw in a dig against the Australian government’s treatment of Aborigines, and she never passes an opportunity to malign oil. Worst of all, she killed off my favorite character, a Ron Kuby-talking psychic hippy who is happy to just be doing whatever it is he is doing.

It has come to our attention that

Kathleen Kaufman

has written a book which has no end.

Please consider this a warning.

Thank you.


The Tree Museum might be had from The Way Things Are Publications or any on-line bookstore. Publisher Mark Havenner, who is a sweetheart, kindly sent the book to me for review.


  1. Luis Dias

    I’m starting to believe that you are a masochist, mr. Briggs!!

    If the “kind” of book was relatively easy to guess from the cover itself, I wonder why did you even bought it and read it?

    Might as well read any Kunstler’s idiotic ramblings about civilization.

    Well, thanks for the warning anyway. I guess this is the “counter-to-we-watch-Fox-so-you-don’t-have-to” post. 🙂

  2. Briggs


    No, no. I get two to three press releases or pleas for publicity every day, one of the benefits of running this small website. Most of them I ignore, but I posted the blurb I got for Tree Museum and the publisher offered to send me the book so that I could review it fairly.

  3. DAV

    If I were emperor no one would try to change things without knowing how those things work. Kaufman doesn’t seem to understand that her current living standard is the direct result of greed. She might think it low but she should consider watching a few episodes of “The Alaska Experiment” to understand how tough things could be even given that the participants are practically provided with cushy accouterments such as plastic ski jackets, canoes, rifles with ammunition, paper maps, steel utensils, etc. — all of which makes life infinitely better. On a recent episode, while out hunting, one of the hunters said “I wish there were birds [to kill and eat] under every bush.” The other replied, “I wish there were grocery stores.” Without those modern conveniences the entire group wouldn’t have survived a week.

    Sure fewer people requires less resources but I’ll bet Kaufman doesn’t think she should be included in the “fewer” set.

  4. Writing a book is never easy. And for first-time, struggling writers what they think they are saying is often different than what they really say. Look it over again and ignore the silly plot. I believe the author may be pleading for help — not of the political authoritarian kind but of the psychological variety. It all sounds Freudian to me. Could the book be a metaphor for her failed marriage and repressed sexuality? Who is this psychic hippy anyway? Her dream lover?

    I once read a book by a first-time author (who was a friend of a friend and whom I met). The plot involved a Persian slave in Roman times. The character had a chance meeting with Jesus, who advised him to dump his harpy wife and marry his girlfriend. It was very spiritual. And what do you know? In real life he did in fact dump his wife (and kids) and run off with a 20-ish bimbo. The book was a justification of sorts for his less than admirable behavior. Sanctioned by Jesus no less.

  5. Hi Matt,

    Having been in discussions with Ms. Kaufman over book messaging, I took away that the book wasn’t necessarily about how we need someone to forcibly take us over, but more that unless we don’t change someone will change us with or without our input. The flawed character relationships is a microcosm of our flawed human interaction where we act like we want free of our problems, but when it gets right down to it, we expect someone to come in and fix things for us.

    As the Dir. of Marketing I was actually concerned about the message because in many ways it is a challenge to those who preach conservation or environmentalism to quit complaining and “do” something and I didn’t want to challenge my target audience -too- much. Even more than that I was concerned about what I considered an overt challenge to government intervention on environmental policy. The tragedy in “The Tree Museum” was that civil liberties were completely stripped for the greater good. I would argue that this book is not Kaufman’s utopian view of the way things should be, but a dystopian view on where things could go should we not get our act together.

    Following certain news and policy changes, especially with regards to water conservation, shoving people into tight living spaces and enforcing organic and local farming is not a far reach for many governments (including the U.S.). The message I took from the book is that we can either do it our own way now or someone is going to do it for us – and we probably won’t like the way they do it.

  6. Mike

    Sounds like “The Goode Family” (ABC TV’s great new animated satire).

  7. Noblesse Oblige

    The worst flaw a writer can have is predictability. Why on earth should I invest time and money in something I already know the answer to.

    As for Wal-Mart aka PricePlan, my wife and I had some fun over morning coffee the other day generating a list of the 10 most hated American companies. When we were done, we realized that we had also generated a list of the 10 most SUCCESSFUL American companies. You know the drill: Wal-Mart, Exxon, Merck, etc. Next time I look for a stock tip, I’ll consult the left wing whacko blogs, not the Wall Street analysts.

  8. Curt

    Thinking of “businessmen” who “wear suits” —

    Last night on the way home from work, I stopped by the local Trader Joe’s store to pick up a few things for some backing my wife wanted to do. I noticed while I was in the (busy) store that I was the only one in anything even approaching “dress” attire, and I was just wearing dress slacks and a dress shirt — no jacket or tie.

    I may have to watch my back now…

  9. Ari


    Try the Trader Ming’s orange chicken. It’s quite tasty.


    Shall we start the Briggs For World Dictator campaign?

  10. To expand on my thesis regarding inadvertent hidden messages in books, the entire environmental movement has a hidden message that proponents may not be aware of: substitute morality.

    It is popular in our Post-Modern era to substitute ersatz morality for the traditional Judeo-Christian morality we have discarded. Now that fidelity, honesty, charity, temperance, and other traditional virtues are widely maligned and violated, people are searching for new virtues to guide their lives. Adherence to organic farming, energy conservation, animal rights, green building, carbon sequestration, and other strictures of dubious value make people feel better about themselves, especially if they have indulged in promiscuity, drug abuse, pornography, and other former taboos.

    Self-righteousness is still a desired commodity, but it’s hard to feel self-righteous when you’ve broken all the old codes of ethics. Hence new ethics are demanded. The New Puritanism is badly flawed, however, based as it is on the latest fad morality.

    Sin is still decried, but they are new sins, such as too big a home, “excessive” resource use, and breathing (you’re just making more CO2). Guilt is rampant, as is eventual existential punishment (the New Apocalypse). We must “get our act together” or the State (the New Theocracy) will intervene. You won’t like the New Inquisition, so shape up!

    I’m not saying that’s the message of this particular book. I haven’t read it and don’t plan to. But I catch that drift from a variety of sources.

  11. Noblesse Oblige writes:

    “You know the drill: Wal-Mart, Exxon, Merck, etc. Next time I look for a stock tip, I’ll consult the left wing whacko blogs, not the Wall Street analysts.”

    The only trouble with this otherwise brilliant strategy is that leftists only hate companies once they’re out of their primary growth phase – i.e. once they’re already successful. You won’t lose money this way, but you won’t make much either.

  12. Darren

    Sounds like you took one for the team, at least chronologically speaking. Thanks for the extra hours in my life, Dr. Briggs. I can get back to reading Niall Ferguson’s The War Of The World,

  13. Darren

    @Mike D:

    I hear you brother. As a recovering fundamentalist Christian ( still Christian, less fundamentalist) I am sometimes reduced to convulsions of laughter at how accurately ostensibly agnostic or Gaia-centric environmentalism manages to imitate the form and tone of the most strident, intolerant aspects of Christianity. It’s really a staggering achievement, an outside observer would notice little in the way of difference, except in one subculture one supreme being is said to have died for all, while in the other scads of lesser mortals (of lesser morals) are essentially required to die in order to save an elect few.

    Makes you wonder if these are less societal constructs and more some sort of hardwired sections of group dynamics. Or maybe just a reasonably predictable emergent function arising from groups of people who really, really believe in something. It usually ends up dissolving into a Judean People’s Front/People’s Front of Judea circular firing squad. There is a social science paper in there somewhere, “Unconscious Self-Limiting Strategies of Extremist Groups”.

  14. You can take the boy out the church, but you can’t take the church out of the boy (or girl, or yourself, as the case might be).

  15. Luis Dias

    Mike D, I think you will like this piece by Michael Chricton, Environmentalism as a Religion.

    A thoroughfully well written speech that goes through what you say and more.

  16. Bob Hawkins

    Probably anyone who had to take a college sociology course encountered the study of fundamentalists and Communists in some Scandinavian country. While the number of fundamentalists varied widely from town to town, and the number of Communists varied just as widely, the sum was almost constant. The conclusion was that fundamentalism and Communism met the same psychological needs of a certain segment of the population.

    Communism has taken serious hits, but the segment of the population is still here, and those psychological needs still need to be met. Hence organic~~kosher, carbon-neutral~~moral, SUV~~demonic.

  17. Ari


    As a Jew I feel compelled to say that no matter what you do to raise pigs “organically,” they will, alas, never be kosher.

    Which is sad, because pork is quite delicious.

  18. Scumop

    Nice review. Envirofundy author and characters, the usual misanthropism repackaged, a book to ignore. A waste of perfectly good carbon. However, Havenner’s comments did leave me wondering just what kind of cautionary tale it is.

    As to Big Green replacing Big God and Big Red, there is a lot to that.

    But not all of we atheists, humanists and agnostics buy into the new new enviro-fundamentalism. I like free market capitalism, business big and small, libertarianism, and freedom of and from religion of all types.

    Enough with the green busybodies. They offer nothing but a wish and a system to induce self-loathing in people – make them feel they’ve sinned so they can be more easily manipulated into following the One True Path as defined by the Greens. And like the book says, make the unbelievers “disappear” (isn’t that the term used in all those dictator-run countries when opponents are dropped out of helicopters?)

  19. john

    The book may not have delivered its point well, but it is clear (via the publisher) that its point was completely missed by the reviewer – too eager to attack the setting rather than delve out the theme. Whether the book merited enough analysis to reach this point is obviously subjective.

  20. Briggs


    You’re wrong. I gave it a fair read, not knowing precisely what it was until after the first couple of chapters. But here’s the link for the book, which you can buy and read. Then see if you can rebut any of my points.

  21. Luis, great speech by Chrichton. He is sorely missed.

    Scumop, assertions of anti-religionism are in fact religious. Atheists, humanists, and agnostics are not faith-free, despite their claims. As Bob Dylan said, you’ve got to serve somebody.

  22. Justin Sullivan

    I bought the book based on the title alone….sometimes a slight mistake at times. I was rather amused by the book. After I read it twice, I thought the plot was quick moving. I think maybe somewhat funny as well in someways….I guess for some of the writer’s ability to set up a different way of looking at things…the above mentioned words of wisdom could easily be dismissed…read it for yourself!

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