I’m not the biggest fan of short stories, because I always feel cheated by their shortness. Just at the point where I’ve come to invest in a character, the story ends. Happily, The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora is an exception, largely because characters recur throughout the collection.
Also, the subject matter of this book hits me right in my nerd zone. I’m a sucker for an exploration of dysfunctional suburbia. Each of the stories focuses on a different household in the fictional town of Old Cranbury (Connecticut?). Behind the stately houses lie relationships in disarray. In some cases, the houses themselves reflect the human crumbling within. In other cases, no one but the reader could imagine that things are not what they seem. The themes are many: the tension between old and new; the tension between fantasy and reality; the tension between image and truth.
I think I like books about dysfunctional suburbia for a couple of reasons. For one, my own suburban childhood was full of families like those portrayed in these stories. I only saw the polished side – the manicured lawns, the made-up faces. Stories like these let me open the doors the houses I never got to enter. I also think that there’s something reassuring about witnessing all of these fictional dirty little secrets. Maybe money doesn’t ensure “The Good Life” after all.
I’m not sure that Acampora breaks new ground here, but I had a surprisingly enjoyable time getting to know the various families she creates. I’m looking forward to more from this author!