THE GIRL IN THE GARDEN,
BY MELANIE WALLACE
PUBLICATION: HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT; JANUARY 31, 2017
Synopsis: An unforgettable novel about a young woman and her infant son, abandoned at a seaside motel in New England, and the secrets of the townspeople who provide them with shelter.
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.
I am so incredibly excited about reading and reviewing “The Girl in the Garden” today! Melanie Wallace has completely floored me with this outstanding novel about the experiences, hardships, generosity, and bonds of people in a small coastal town. The story is centered around a young girl named June, who arrives at Mabel’s rental cabins in 1974 with her infant son, Luke and the child’s father, Ward. After realizing that she was pregnant and tracking Ward down, he agreed to “keep her around” until the baby was born and then advised that he would take her wherever she wanted. June decided she wanted to go to the Atlantic ocean, which is where Ward drove her and left her. As soon as Ward and June come into the rental office inquiring about a cabin, Mabel immediately senses that he will leave her, but she rents to them regardless, knowing that the young girl and baby will have nowhere to go. When the time comes for Mable’s seasonal cabin rentals to close for the winter, she sends June to stay with Iris – a wealthy recluse with plenty of space for June and Luke and who just wants to be left alone. Other significant characters are Claire – Iris’ daughter, Duncan – Iris’ attorney, Oldham – a veteran that is a wonderful friend and supporter, and Sam – a wounded veteran that drives Claire back to see her mother.
Various chapters throughout the novel focus on various characters, describing their lives and how they came to be where they are at the present time of the novel. Each character is fully and beautifully developed allowing the reader a window into where they have been, how their situations affected them, and where they are now. All of the stories are heartbreaking in their own way, although they are each very different. Melanie Wallace has created an eclectic group of characters at different stages in their lives, but still have common bonds between them, as unlikely as it would seem. I was absolutely intrigued by each of their stories, although, there were times I went back to read their stories again to make sure that I understood exactly what had happened, especially concerning Iris. Although the recluse of the novel, basically all of the personal connections between the other characters involved Iris in some way. Initially, I didn’t feel very invested in her character, however, that quickly changed and I can’t stop thinking about this woman even after I have finished the book.
If I had to point out anything negative about this novel, it would be Claire. Granted she had a strange upbringing, especially after her father died, but I found her spoiled, entitled, and often very bossy. Other than being a common denominator between Sam and Oldham and June, I honestly saw no purpose to her character except to make me sympathize with Iris even more than I already did. Yes, she made kind gestures here and there regarding money, but otherwise, I felt like she looked down on everyone else as if they were her subjects waiting to serve her, which was completely unlike any other character in the novel.
I looked over other reviews of this novel before reading and reviewing it, and I noticed comments about there not being any conflict or the novel being slow. Regarding conflict, I felt that the entire novel included conflict. I’m thinking maybe the confusion was the fact that it was primarily internal rather than external? Everyone in the story had experienced loss and grief or insecurity and Wallace guided the reader through their experiences and emotions. No, there weren’t any huge, defining moments of climax or resolution – but it wasn’t needed.
Trying to avoid spoilers, I must say that I loved the ending. I don’t typically like such ambiguous endings because I just need more clarity and finality, but I think the way the author wrapped this novel up was beautiful, tasteful, and appropriate. Everyone experiences good and bad in their lives, we go through changes, ups, and downs. But the author left me with the overall feeling that things will be as they should and that things will work out. Moreover, the novel stresses that we all have different flaws from different circumstances, all of which should be embraced.
I cannot remember reading a novel that left me with so much running through my mind. I am in complete awe of Melanie Wallace’s beautiful prose that was perfectly paced and full of the thorough characterization that I love! I highly recommend this to anyone that is a lover of literary and women’s fiction 🙂
*Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.