The Girl in the Garden by Melanie Wallace

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“More important, Roland quietly observed one evening, is that June has Luke to anchor her. Mabel disagreed. Anchors weigh, she reminded him.

And Moor, came his reply.”

When June and her baby Luke are abandoned by Ward- an older guy, the child’s father at a seaside motel in New England, the story is just beginning. Mabel, the widow who owns the place knew from the start that Ward wasn’t on the up and up. It is obvious this won’t end well… for the girl and her poor baby. June, of course, is naive and hungry for love and security. She has faith and hope in Ward, but it’s misplaced and when he leaves her there is no other choice but to turn to the mercy of Mabel. June doesn’t have enough money to remain, nor any other options.  She comes from a ‘nowhere place’. “A nowhere place, Roland later mused, doesn’t strike me as somewhere she can return.” Fortunately for her, through some twist of fate she has been dumped in a place where the people will come to the rescue in helping her build a life for herself and her son. I kept thinking ‘it really  does take a village’, which is fantastic if you are without family and support. If only every abandoned person were so lucky.

The village I speak of is a cast of characters that are all intertwined. I was more enthralled by the story between Claire and her mother Iris. Why did Claire, at such a young age, no longer live with her mother but lived in a cottage behind the house? Claire who feels she is only the ‘spawn’ of her mother and father. Why did her father’s death cause an ocean of distance between Claire and her mother? If not for her passion for photography, Claire would sink in confusion and pain, but she is bright, talented, and independent. Duncan’s role in her life is so much more than just the trusted (lawyer) guardian. Claire is the character I preferred, with her purposeful manner, her strength and righteous anger. Iris has turned her back on everyone, society- but more importantly her daughter. She has retreated into herself, deeply and has her reasons. Mabel knows Iris has a perfect place for June and Luke with Claire gone.

Luke brings Iris out of herself over time, in fact Luke seems to be a link for more than just Claire and Iris. Sam is a wounded vet and yet Luke becomes dear to him, their interactions are the sweetest moments in the novel. Luke is a precious lovable child as he grows up, one that reclusive Iris even enjoys spending time with, demands it even! When Claire returns things still never become clear, and the story disturbed me as a mother. Here Iris is bonding with Luke and making sure both his and June’s future is secure yet the one person who needed her was neglected, regardless of her future successes. It made it impossible for me, regardless of the ‘reasoning’ to relate to a mother freezing her child out. As Claire struggles with how her mother once was (before her father died) and is now in her frailty doesn’t change the fact that the middle is an abyss of absence, of nothing.

This novel has damaged people who still reach out and uplift, but I was left wondering what could have been different between Claire and Iris, and why Duncan got in his own way to both he and Claire’s detriment. That is people though, isn’t it? Getting in their own way, letting terrible situations cloud the present, freezing their hearts, turning their backs but these same people can also be a stranger’s salvation. What a strange story.

I liked it, certainly reading from each characters perspective enriches any story. I just couldn’t feel for Iris, and I wonder what other readers will think of her. Claire may have been brusque but I think life did that to her, she had to have crocodile skin and strength. June may have been the one the reader is supposed to ache and hope for, but Claire captured me. This is quietly sad and lovely both.

Publication Date: January 31, 2017

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

 

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