Friday, January 6, 2017

The Girl in the Garden, by Melanie Wallace. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

It’s the end of summer, and Mabel is about to shutter her guest cabins when a car drives up. Out come a teen aged girl with a tiny baby, and an angry, tired man who completely ignores them. Mabel rents them a cabin for a few days; she isn’t surprised when one day the man drives off and doesn’t come back. She allows the girl to stay on, then finds them a place to stay for the winter, in a cottage behind the house of a friend of hers, Iris. Iris wants no rent- in fact, she’ll give the girl money- she just wants a few chores done and she gets to spend a couple of hours a day with the baby.

Three years later, June and Luke are still living in the cottage. She’s made a couple of friends, and has created a life for herself, working for Iris as Iris gradually declines. She’s formed relationships with others in the small town. It’s a pretty decent life, if strictly circumscribed.

Then Iris’s daughter, Claire, returns. Not only has she been gone for years with no contact, but she moved out of the main house at 13 and lived in the cottage until she was 18 and could leave. During her teen years she was basically brought up by Duncan, a local lawyer, who signed her absence slips, took her to the doctor, and attended parent-teacher meetings- Iris was happy to turn over the raising of her child. She’s now a photojournalist- largely taught by Oldman, a photographer during WW 2- who has won awards and created a life that has nothing to do with the place she grew up in. Claire brings with her, as her driver, a badly battle scarred Viet Nam vet named Sam, a man who works at the soup kitchen that she also is associated with.

Everyone in this novel is mourning something; a spouse lost, a spouse better forgotten and the life they ruined, a childhood lost, their own looks lost. Everyone deals with loss differently, but they all have one thing in common: they have all withdrawn from the world to some degree. Who will be able to get over their loss and move on into life again?

I loved the writing; some reviewers have criticized the long sentences but I have no problem with them. I found it difficult to follow the dialog at times; the author doesn’t use quotation marks and frequently doesn’t identify who is speaking. But it’s not bad enough to be uncomfortable. I loved the descriptions of the area the story takes place in, and the mundane settings of everyday life. The narrative changes point of view with each chapter. It’s a rather lovely portrait of damaged people surviving as best they can, although some of the people seem almost too good to be true.Also, the cover is beautiful. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something - anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

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