Donna Pryor lives in the lap of luxury. She spends her days in a beautifully appointed condo. Her every whim is catered to by a dedicated staff, and she does not want for anything.
Except for news of her adult daughter.
Or an ex-husband who takes her calls.
Donna knows something is wrong, but she can't quite put her finger on it. As her life of privilege starts to feel more and more like a prison, the facade she has depended on begins to crumble. Somewhere in the ruins is the truth, and the closer Donna Pryor gets to it, the more likely it is to destroy her.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.10(d)|
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Read an Excerpt
Through the thicket of trees, the faint amber lights of a building appear. The sign catches me by surprise as if it isn’t meant to be seen by just anyone. Like a hurried deer crossing the road it materializes and below it, bushy sky-blue hydrangeas the size of human heads thrive.
Golden letters come into focus. Shadow Garden.
How strange. All those years I’ve lived here but I never knew this place existed.
“You think I’ll get better soon?”
I turn and look at Edward, my husband. I shouldn’t notice the heavy metal-alloy femoral head in my left hip but it weighs me down in more ways than one. Since the accident things have been difficult between us.
Edward stares straight ahead. His face hadn’t been touched by a razor in months, not until this morning, when he decided to stop hiding behind a full beard. I study the profile of the face that has emerged, exposed and on the verge of being unfamiliar. A spot by his upper lip, a small blood-speckled wound from the razor blade. His fitted suit is no longer snug and I resist telling him to have the garment altered. I have become good at swallowing my words by visualizing pulling an imaginary zipper across my mouth.
A gate shuts behind us. I search for words to accurately explain myself but I’m distracted by shiny kaleidoscopic grackles of purple, green, and blue iridescence foraging with long dark bills. They peck at shamrock-green grass blades, have taken over the walkways and the shrubberies, they dot the lawn, sit perched on rims of copper fountains, bobbing their heads. As we pass them, the flock scatters off into nearby trees. In the fading light, their yellow eyes stand out in the otherwise emerald landscape. They settle nearby, invisible to the eye, but their calls are unnerving like the sound of buzzing power lines.
I look out the car window so Edward doesn’t see me tearing up. He hates tears. They unravel him, do him in. He’s been composed so far, at least on the outside, but that’s nothing to brag about; he’s a surgeon, it comes to him naturally.
That name. Shadow Garden. How overly dramatic, as if ripped from a Victorian horror novel. It isn’t until I’m shown the grounds that it grows on me. It has the feel of an Ivy League university surrounded by a vastness of jade, mint, olive, and sage—any hue of green the eye can imagine.
Shadow Garden is nothing to shake a stick at. It sits on a majestic estate of almost forty acres of hiking trails tucked away in the countryside at the end of a rural road. To call the estate a garden, even in a remote sense, is an understatement: The grounds are a burst of potted plants, bushes, shrubberies, and trees shading the paved walkways. Crape myrtles rise between the buildings, slender, with sinewy, fluted stems and mottled branches and bark that sheds like snakeskin.
“I guess I’ve turned into an old shrew, griping all day long,” I joke but to no avail. Earlier, when I struggled down the stairs and limped over to the car, his eyes were fixated on me, watching my every step. He hasn’t looked at me since. I wonder what he thinks of me shuffling around without any strength and confidence and maybe he’s run out of compassion. Just look at him staring straight ahead as if I’m not even here. “Did you hear me?”
“Bones heal, dear. That’s what bones do. They fuse,” Edward says as the corners of his lips form the imitation of a smile.
“You’re the doctor, you ought to know,” I say with a slight hint of sarcasm, but truth be told, it isn’t my bones I’m worried about. I wish I could talk to Edward like I used to. I want to tell him how terrified I am. “I worry about Penelope,” I add, barely a whisper.
His head swivels toward me when I mention our daughter.
“Marleen will be with you. No need to worry.”
Marleen. My housekeeper. My steadfast soldier. Years ago, Edward and I traveled to Egypt. We toured a temple and the guide told us about a human entombed with nobility to serve them in the afterlife—a retainer sacrifice. Metaphorically speaking I’m a cast-off given a servant.
Later, Edward stands awkwardly blocking the front door. “I have to leave now,” he says and I blink the tears away.
“I don’t understand why all this is happening,” I can’t help myself and before I know it, the words have escaped my mouth. They rest between us with all those other weighted things we have accumulated in the past.
Edward remains silent. I reach for his hand, which hangs lifeless and cold by his side. He seems jittery but maybe I’m reading too much into it.
“You’ll be back to your old self in no time,” Edward finally says without making eye contact.
Thirty years of marriage and I can read him like a book. Even he doesn’t believe the back-to-your-old-self thing. The fabric between him and the truth is nothing but a smokescreen. As thin as paper. An illusion. The truth is our marriage is over and Shadow Garden is my consolation prize. That’s the gist of it.
As I see Edward off, the lampposts flicker and for a moment the night is so dark, it seems capable of devouring me. Like being swallowed whole.
I tug at the crisp white sheet clinging to the corner of my vanity mirror. Yanking at it, I center the fabric. The sheet disturbs dust, which threatens to settle on every surface of my bedroom.
“I don’t understand what this is all about,” Marleen reprimands me as if I’m an unruly child. Her eyes pan back and forth between me and the mirror.
“This isn’t nearly as dramatic as it looks,” I say and reassure her I’m in great spirits. Just in case she thinks otherwise.
I’ve explained the entire mourning affair to Marleen but it must have gone over her head. My friend and neighbor, Vera Olmsted, told me about holding shiva for seven days, during which one shrouds all mirrors, but I’m Methodist and there’s no need to follow the rules exactly. Loss comes in many forms and my state of mourning has to do with my marriage. For the longest time I counted on a reconciliation but months have passed and not a single phone call from Edward. Not one visit. And my daughter, Penelope, I haven’t spoken to her either.
Voices drift toward me through the open window—a child, giggling, high-pitched, pit-a-patting, racing down the walkway with a joy that only children possess. A mother’s voice responds gently, wait, slow down, hold my hand. I crane my neck to get a good look at them—the girl is about five or so—and seeing her is comforting at first but then reality sinks in.
When Penelope was five, we lived in Florida at the end of a cul-de-sac. I search my mind for fond memories of the bungalow but all I know is I wouldn’t set foot in it today. A crooked fire hydrant in the front yard and a small square patch of grass. Every time the air conditioner kicked in, the lights flickered on trembling currents due to faulty wiring. We were able to afford the house because the interior was dated and overhead power lines cut through the backyard, mere feet away from the porch. Metal towers loomed above us and I often wondered if it was safe to live there.
For hours on end, Penelope played with her dollhouses, scooting across the cheap carpet until her knees turned pinkish red from the friction. She’d sit with what I interpreted as sharp concentration but as time passed I saw it for what it was: an obsession, a way of soothing herself. She rearranged plastic dolls and dainty accessories and when I interrupted her, she’d snap her head back and flip her ponytail by weaving her fingers through her hair, whipping it around.
Penelope—we called her Pea as a baby and toddler, Penny as a child, Penelope starting as a teenager—never made friends easily. She didn’t care for other children. It sounds callous, but it wasn’t so much her not liking others as her enjoying her own company. I found what I thought was the solution to her isolation and bought her an outdoor playhouse, hoping it would attract children from the neighborhood. I had an image of Pea and her friends having tea parties and tucking their doll babies in strollers, playing dress-up and wearing princess dresses.
I didn’t read the description and the playhouse arrived in hundreds of pieces of wooden shapes with numbered and lettered plastic stickers and a bag of screws, nails, and hex keys. That Edward was going to put the playhouse together was wishful thinking on my part; he not so much as hammered a nail in the wall.
I found a handyman in the Yellow Pages who put it together the very next day. After he left, Penelope stared at the house for a long time, then circled it as if she was pondering its intended use. “Go on,” I said and watched her step inside as I stood on the back porch and beheld the structure: the scalloped cedar shingles, the cast-iron bell, the stained-glass window in the door which allowed plenty of sunlight to sneak inside, where a delicate heart-and-swag stencil pattern adorned the walls.
Penelope disappeared within the structure and a sudden gust of wind slammed the playhouse door shut and the stained-glass pane shattered though it took me some time to connect cause and effect. Penelope screamed and I ran to find her with a gaping cut from the tip of her index finger down the palm of her hand to her wrist. The cut bled so profusely, I was unable to staunch the bleeding. I rushed her to the ER and Edward did the sutures himself and eventually all that was left of that day was a faint white line in my daughter’s palm. It seemed to float, to sit above her skin. Penelope didn’t so much as shed a tear. She knew no pain. I say that without judgment, that was just the body she lived in.
There was something about Penelope, something that made me—
Outside my window heavy footsteps sound. More laughter. I got you. Stop being silly. The voices grow weak, then fade, swallowed by the lush landscaping until there’s nothing but silence spilling into my room. There one moment, gone the next.
Reading Group Guide
Readers Guide for SHADOW GARDEN
Questions for Discussion
1. America is the proverbial land of opportunity, and Edward and Donna Pryor have achieved wealth and a high standing in their community. How do you think money played into the decisions they made on that fateful night? Do you see them making the same decision if they weren’t affluent?
2. Was money a hindrance or an accelerator in the Pryors’ downfall?
3. When you met Donna Pryor in the beginning of the story, did you feel empathy for her?
4. “If a child goes wrong, look at the family.” Does that ring true to you?
5. We have all said, “I’d do anything for my child.” How would you have reacted coming upon the scene in the garage? Would you protect your child from legal consequences? How far would you go to stretch the truth? Where would you draw the line?
6. Had Donna and Edward called the police that night, how might things have played out differently for the Pryor family? Would Penelope have changed how she lived her life if she had been exonerated? Would Donna and Edward still be together?
7. Think back to the initial quote in the book by William Butler Yeats. “Why, what could she have done, being what she is?” In what ways does that quote apply to both Donna and Penelope?
8. In your opinion, who is mostly to blame for the downfall of the Pryor family? Who can you forgive most easily?
9. Did the Pryors get what they deserved? Examine the consequences for each one of them. Does the punishment match the gravity of the crime for Edward, Donna, and Penelope?
10. Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” is a fourteenth-century poem telling of Dante’s journey through hell. What do you make of the parallels of the three parts (hell, purgatory, and heaven) of the novel?
11. Shadow Garden is a character onto itself. What made the setting unique or important to the story? Did you know that places like Shadow Garden existed in reality?