Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Wonder Garden

Author: Lauren Acampora
Genre: Short Story, Modern Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
First Published: May 5, 2015
First Line: "John likes to arrive first."

Book Description from GoodReadsJohn likes to arrive first. He enjoys standing quietly with a house before his clients arrive, and today, although he feels pinned beneath an invisible weight, he resolves to savor this solitary moment. It’s one of those overhauled ranches so common to Old Cranbury these days, swollen and dressed to resemble a colonial. White, of course, with ornamental shutters and latches pretending to hold them open. A close echo of its renovated sisters on Whistle Hill Road, garnished with hostas and glitzed with azaleas. He has seen too many of these to count… 

A man strikes an under-the-table deal with a surgeon to spend a few quiet seconds closer to his wife than he's ever been; a young soon-to-be mother looks on in paralyzing astonishment as her husband walks away from a twenty-year career in advertising at the urging of his spirit animal; an elderly artist risks more than he knows when he's commissioned by his newly-arrived neighbors to produce the work of a lifetime.

In her stunning debut collection, The Wonder Garden, Lauren Acampora brings to the page with enchanting realism the myriad lives of a suburban town and lays them bare. These linked stories take a trenchant look at the flawed people of Old Cranbury, incisive tales that reveal at each turn the unseen battles we play out behind drawn blinds, the creeping truths from which we distract ourselves, and the massive dreams we haul quietly with us and hold close.

Deliciously creepy and masterfully complex The Wonder Garden heralds the arrival of a phenomenal new talent in American fiction.

My Review:  I am, admittedly, not an avid reader of short stories.  In fact, this is only the second time I've read a book of short stories - yes, I am a relative newbie to the genre.  The previous book of short stories that I read didn't get me too eager to jump on the ol' bandwagon again.  I found that I wanted to know more about the characters and was left hanging when they ended.  Thankfully, Acampora is a breath of fresh air and has reignited my desire to read more in this genre.

Acampora's debut novel stood out for me in a few ways.  The writing is crisp, to the point and yet very engaging.  She doesn't waste any time with excess descriptions but jumps right into the heart of the issues.  But the main thing that impressed me was her unique twist in that all of the characters from thirteen short stories all live in the same quaint, upper scale suburb of Old Cranbury and make appearances in each other's stories.  I loved how their lives intersected with each other and enjoyed recognizing characters who were introduced earlier.  This helped not only give me a better, overall picture of individual characters but also get a sense of how their issues are viewed by those around them.  It gave the book an authentic sense of community (granted a pretty dysfunctional one with all of their issues). And oh boy did these people have issues - their vices, insecurities, worries and problems are revealed to the reader.  It has a rather twisted feel to many of the stories yet they are, for the most part, relatable on some level. Or maybe I'm a little twisted.  Who's to say?

I won't say that all of the short stories engaged me in the same way.  I wasn't a fan of a few of them (especially Moon Roof) and sometimes had a hard time remembering which character was which but I definitely had my favourites (ie. Floortime).  

Overall this book was impressive, oddly relatable in some ways and was a great opportunity to see behind the facades that people put up.  Acampora's writing is engaging, descriptive (without being verbose) and her pace kept me interested throughout.  She truly has a knack for showing people's need to find connections with each other, to feel understood and accepted all in a very precise and eloquent way.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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