Lauren Acampora’s The Wonder Garden (May 2015) is a clever book of linked and interrelated stories that taken together provide a picture of a wealthy New England town in flux as new inhabitants supplant existing community values. Characters are introduced into ordinary situations—a woman dating a man full of excuses; a man unhappy with his job wishing to get closer to nature—and then veer into increasingly complex, alarming, and spectacular circumstances. Watching Acampora expertly mine her characters’ justifications is one of the pleasures of this terrific book.
All of the stories have houses as their backbone. Behind the restored Victorians, Center Hall Colonials, and formidable mansions lay enough disappointment and deception to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. This is evident in “Sentry,” as a nosy, self-righteous woman takes unbidden responsibility for a neighbor’s child while her own son struggles with life’s challenges and in “Ground Fault,” where a housing inspector decides who is worthy of a particular house and the happiness that comes with it.
In “Elevations,” one half of a couple yearns to make a grander difference while his partner’s sights are set on more practical goals. “After Glow” finds a man bored with life and desiring to have an unusual dream fulfilled. In the title story, a woman’s inflated sense of her own importance is brilliantly revealed as she temporarily houses a student from abroad.
One of my favorites is “Moon Roof,” a tale of a woman so fearful of the future that she is stuck fast in the present. Only a superbly talented writer can infuse that much tension into a left turn.
Nothing is wasted or frivolous and close attention to minor characters bear fruit as they return to command their own delightful dramas. How they are all interrelated becomes apparent as the book progresses.
I highly recommend this book, not only to readers of short stories, but also to fiction lovers for whom short stories end a bit too abruptly. The tight weave of this book delivers a delightful path through suburbia in all its glorious dysfunction.
Reviewed by Carol Malkin
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