Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Book Review: "The Wonder Garden" by Lauren Acampora
Driving through a neighborhood, looking at the houses you pass by, do you ever stop and wonder about the lives of those who live there? Looking from the outside in, we never know about the problems people face, whether their lives are mundane or full of excitement and tension, what their desires and regrets are, and what drives them forward.
Lauren Acampora's intriguing, well-written collection of linked stories, The Wonder Garden, strives to give us insight into the lives of strangers, as she focuses on the residents of Old Cranbury, a well-heeled suburb not far from Manhattan. From John, the home inspector whose intense attention to detail in his professional life hasn't seemed to translate into his personal life; to Madeleine, whose life is upended when her husband leaves his corporate advertising job to pursue a career as a healer; from Harold, whose fascination with the brain veers into bizarre territory after he forms an alliance of sorts with a surgeon; to Camille, whose frustration with motherhood and life after divorce fuels her desire for a life elsewhere, these stories chronicle hope and disillusionment, happiness and hurt, desires realized and desires thwarted.
Acampora does an excellent job creating a sense of a community, and although it's difficult at first to remember which characters were which as they showed up in future stories, once I did, I enjoyed catching another glimpse of them through the lens of another character or situation. Some of the characters are tremendously flawed, some of them are simply caught up in an unexpected or strange situation, and some are just trying to go about their daily lives.
Among my favorite stories in the collection were: "Ground Fault," which followed a home inspector whose personal life is more in disarray than his professional one, but some spillage is inevitable; "Floortime," about a woman struggling to reach her autistic son and willing to consider any means to do so; "Elevations," about a couple struggling with the separate needs of each person; "The Umbrella Bird," which chronicles a woman who must reconcile a drastic change in her husband; and "Moon Roof," in which a woman's inability to move into traffic underscores issues in the rest of her life.
I really enjoyed this collection and think Acampora is a terrific writer. A few of the stories didn't work for me, either because I found the main character so unlikeable or because I found the premise of the story less interesting, but on the whole this is a really strong collection, and definitely signals the arrival of a fantastic new talent.