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“Soulful and exquisite, this novel blooms with the beauty of humanity.”— Shelf Awareness “In this exceptional novel, Melanie Wallace conveys the depths and complexities of life in a seemingly uneventful New England village. The Girl in the Garden strikingly affirms Eudora Welty’s belief ‘that one place understood helps us understand all other places better.’”—Ron Rash, author of Serena and Above the Waterfall “Powerful…A quiet, contemplative novel that builds slowly and leaves a lasting impact.”— Publishers Weekly When June arrives on the coast of New England, baby in arms, an untrustworthy man by her side, Mabel—who rents them a cabin—senses trouble. A few days later, the girl and her child are abandoned. June is soon placed with Mabel’s friend, Iris, in town, and her life becomes entwined with a number of locals who have known each other for decades: a wealthy recluse with a tragic past; a widow in mourning; a forsaken daughter returning for the first time in years, with a stranger in tow; and a kindly WWII veteran who serves as the town’s sage. Surrounded by the personal histories and secrets of others, June finds the way forward for herself and her son becoming determined by the others’ pasts, including loves—and crimes—from years ago. In vivid, nuanced prose, Melanie Wallace—“a writer with a tender regard for the marginal, the missing, and the lost” (Hilary Mantel)—explores the time-tested bonds of a small community, the healing power of friendship and love, and whether the wrongs of the past can ever be made right.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
MELANIE WALLACE is the author of The Housekeeper, which was long-listed for the Orange Prize, and Blue Horse Dreaming, which was long-listed (in translation, as Sauvages) for France's Prix Femina. Born and raised in New Hampshire, she now lives with her husband in Greece.
Read an Excerpt
1974 Mabel knew before the girl came to speak with her what she’d say: that the man who hadn’t so much as posed as the girl’s husband hadn’t returned and wasn’t going to. She — Mabel — had surmised — no, she later told Iris over the phone, correcting herself, not surmised butknown — from the moment she first saw them that he’d already washed his hands of her. For when he got out of the car he disregarded the girl, left her to open the passenger-side door and manage to get to her feet, stand, with that sleeping infant in her arms. He didn’t even glance behind him to check on her, just walked toward the office porch and left her to trail him. Midweek, afternoon, off-season. The autumn air was damp, still, the sky undulate with silken cirrus under which Mabel had been hanging sheets on the lines between the office and the last of the cabins. Two of those were occupied, four yet to be cleaned and shuttered, three still ready for any comers. Any, Mabel told herself, but she was nothing if not discerning about whom to rent to and whom to turn away, she’d had years of trial and error; and if the girl hadn’t had that baby in her arms despite not looking much older than a child herself, Mabel would have said Sorry, I’m closing up for the season. But there she was, trailing him as though shy of him as Mabel approached, wiping her hands on the bleach-stained smock she was wearing over her sweater and jeans. Good day, she greeted them, which made the girl stop and examine the ground at her feet as he responded by giving a nod in the direction of the office and saying, I take it that vacancy sign is good. He followed Mabel in, the screendoor closing behind him so that the girl had to let herself through it. She didn’t stand next to him but behind and off to one side, head bent over her child. Mabel took in her stooped posture, the bluish half-moons under her eyes, the flush that rose to her cheeks when he told Mabel that he expected she might lower the price of a cabin if they stayed a while. How long’s a while? Mabel asked. Ten days, he replied, which made the girl look sharply at him, then glance away quickly and hunch even lower over the cache in her arms, Mabel catching in the girl’s expression what she thought might be consternation or dismay — or, she later considered, fear, as if the girl thought he had eyes in the back of his head and would be able to see her consternation or dismay or fear, shielding herself from what Mabel already realized the girl could not. At that instant, she — Mabel — knew she would not, for the girl’s sake, refuse them a cabin or a lower price, and so gave them both. He reached into a front pocket and peeled off from a roll of bills the cash he placed on the counter, the girl now watching slantwise and in amazement because, Mabel figured, she hadn’t known he’d had that roll on him or hadn’t ever seen that much money, or both. Mabel said the keys would be to the cabin called Spindrift — each cabin had a wooden sign with its name carved into it, hanging above the doorframe — and added that it was the furthermost from the road and the quietest, so nothing should disturb them there. He sleeps good, the girl murmured then, shifting her weight from one foot to the other and looking at the man beseechingly as if, Mabel later told Iris, giving him the chance to admit the infant not only existed but wasn’t any bother. He turned and glared speechlessly at the girl for a moment, returned to glare at Mabel, his eyes as bloodshot and dry and glassy as Mabel’s husband’s used to be after driving the rig with Jimmy Devine, hauling loads around the country for weeks on coffee and bennies and willful stubbornness and the occasional catnap taken in the bunk he and Devine had built into the cab to allow one of them to sleep while the other was behind the wheel. Mabel took in that glare and watched him work at blinking it away. She recognized exhaustion when she saw it, and she knew by those eyes, by the way his unwashed clothes hung on him and the way he smelled, that he’d been driving day and night, night and day, and that he’d simply given out on her doorstep. My luck were the words that went through Mabel’s mind just then: it was only happenstance that they’d ended up at the cabins, that he’d come to the point of needing a good deal of rest before he could get behind the wheel of that dusty, dented old Buick and face a round of endless driving once again. It went without saying, to Mabel’s way of thinking, that when the time came and he was ready, he aimed to drive off alone. So, we’re square, he said, nodding at the cash on the counter, putting his hand out for the keys. We are, Mabel returned, but I’ll need some ID for my records and your receipt. I don’t need — he began to protest, but Mabel cut him off with: It’s the way I do business, on the level. He eyed the bills she hadn’t touched, and Mabel told Iris later that if he hadn’t looked like he’d fall over from exhaustion any minute, he would probably have just scooped up what he’d put down and told her to go to hell. Instead, he turned on his heel and pushed past the girl, letting the screendoor slam behind him. That woke the infant, the girl saying Oh I’m sorry as the baby burst into whine and cry, then slipping away, letting the door shut gently behind her and standing on the porch rocking and cooing at the infant, her thinness so silhouetted by the screendoor through which Mabel gazed that she found it distressing. As disturbing was the way the man spoke to her when he approached, then watched her do as he said and waited for her to make her way over to the Buick and slide herself in. The license he handed Mabel was from a Far West state. He was at least three inches taller than the height stated on it, and his eyes weren’t hazel. Mabel wrote the name on the license into her registration book and filled out a receipt, telling him as she did what he needed to know. That the stove was electric. That the refrigerator was on. That there was a new showerhead, extra blankets in the closet. Not to use the towels for the beach. That they were responsible for making up the cabin — if they chose to make it up at all. On their fifth day, she’d bring them fresh towels and sheets and collect the used ones. The television got two channels clearly, a few more if you played around with the rabbit ears. The public telephone was located on the outside of the office to their right. Roland was the night manager, the office closed at 11 p.m.; she, Mabel, reopened it at eight in the morning. There were directions in the cabin to nearby grocery shopping and beachgoing. And she knew he wasn’t even half listening, standing there in a lank way and breaking out in a filmy sweat, vacantly watching her handle that license. When she handed it back to him with a receipt and the keys, she asked if he wanted a crib. Crib? he repeated. For the baby, she said. Nah, came his response. Well, if you change your mind — I won’t, he told her. And left abruptly, again letting the screendoor slam, the violence in his stride so visible that the girl hurriedly swung her legs — she’d been sitting with the passenger door open, her feet resting on the ground — into the car and shut the door before he could reach her. For he wasn’t the type, Mabel knew, to open or hold or close a door for that girl, and that wasn’t because he’d gone with no or too little sleep while putting towns, cities, counties, states, most likely an entire continent between where they began from and where Mabel was standing. Knew, too, that he wouldn’t come back into the office to ask for anything, and certainly not that crib, which was something the girl and infant had most likely so far done without anyway. And knew, too, that he’d keep that girl cowed on a tight rein, because nothing was going to change, at least not on his watch during this stopover: and even if he didn’t consider himself as being on watch, this was the way Mabel saw it.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As I finished this book my heart lodged in my throat. My chest so tight with emotion that I couldn't breath. This book will forever be one of my favorites. It's an instant classic with characters that not only become your friends and family but make you want to be a better person. The pains and sufferings that they share with you will leave you with longing to revisit them for years.
Mabel has new guests, a man and a young girl with a baby, in one of her cabins and she doesn't particularly trust them. Her suspicions appear to be right, the man leaves the girl, June, together with her baby and doesn't return. Because June can't stay with Mabel she's being offered a cottage in Iris's garden. Iris is a recluse, but she does love kids and she wants to spend time with June's little boy. Iris's daughter lived in the cottage before June, but has moved out several years ago and never came back. Will June be happy in such a remote place and does her arrival make things better or worse for Iris? June meets only kindness in her new surroundings, many of the locals are helping her in their own way. The cottage has a strange history. Before June moved in it was occupied by another teenager. Iris and her daughter couldn't live in the same space and her daughter moved out of the main house when she was still a young teenager. Iris hasn't seen her daughter ever since she left town when she was grown up enough to leave. Is there still a chance for them to make amends and what will happen to June, does she have a future with the people who have so generously taken her in? The Girl in the Garden is a beautiful story. I was immediately impressed by Melanie Wallace's gorgeous prose. Her story enchanted me straight away and I loved the unusual circumstances of every main character. Melanie Wallace regularly changes her points of view and every character has a distinct voice and an interesting story to tell. It felt like I was allowed to take a peek in all of their lives, which is a great way to tell a story. Each person in The Girl in the Garden has wonderful characteristics and flaws, told in a way I found pretty factual. I enjoyed that aspect of the story especially, all of the characters have a strange history and they have their secrets, reasons for peculiar behavior and faults. They are human, but not perfect, which I absolutely loved. The Girl in the Garden is a special story. June is really young. She's quite naïve and not world-wise at all and that has landed her in a tricky situation. Her arrival sets a series of events in motion and what was once broken has a chance to be mended, which is a wonderful thought. Every character had an easily definable worst moment with lasting consequences. However, not all of the aftereffects are bad. It is possible to heal and it's never too late to try and make something as right as possible. It's the gestures that count in this story and they always have some kind of result. I loved the thoughtfulness of it and was completely mesmerized by this fantastic book.
I had a difficult time gathering my thoughts and deciding how I wanted to rate this book. When I closed the book after the final page, I wasn’t even sure whether or not I liked it. The primary reason for this was because I spent most of the book wondering where the story was going and waiting for the plot to start taking shape, which didn’t really happen until the end. The book appeared to start off strong, with Mabel taking in a teenage mother abandoned by an older gentleman, but from there the story just sort of meanders. The narrative jumps from character to character, talking about their lives and what led them to where they are. After a while the story is barely about June and baby Luke, or any character in particular, with several stories running alongside each other. There were a few romances going on between characters, and all of them made me ask why all of them seemed to involve an older man and under aged women? I didn’t find any of them all that romantic, just mildly uncomfortable. The book spends such a lengthy amount of time introducing and talking about characters it carried on almost to the 70% mark. All of the characters were interesting, and some I could even find believable, but after a while it just kind of got overwhelming. Characters talked about at length earlier in the novel basically disappear except for a few scenes at the end, and it makes me wonder why they are even there at all, or why I spent so much time reading about them. The ending focuses in on a character that is barely present throughout most of the novel but connects to June and the baby. The prose was beautiful but at times confusing and heavy handed and became tiresome to read. There was a plethora of run on sentences that carry on for the entire length of a paragraph. The writing is almost overly descriptive, and sentences were so heavily spliced with commas that things get convoluted. I had to re-read several of these blocks of text a few times just to make sense of it. There were also no quotation marks to denote the beginning of a conversation, which wasn’t the end of the world since the speaker was usually noted after, but this style was still not favorable. The pacing is dreadfully slow. I got into the story at certain points, but it was the type of book that I could read for a chapter, then put it down and forget about it for a week. The sentiment I got from this boiled down to the idea that happiness, love, and healing is always possible, even for those of us that are the most damned. I love this idea, but it just felt like it was executed poorly and made the whole book and its characters, as interesting as they were, feel like they lacked any real substance. I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did but I just didn’t enjoy it.