An unforgettable novel about a young woman and her infant son who are abandoned at a seaside motel in New England, the townspeople who provide them with shelter, and the secrets that all of them are keeping
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.
June is soon placed with Mabel’s friend, Iris, in town, and her life becomes entwined with a number of locals who have known one another 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; a lawyer, whose longings he can never reveal; and a kindly World War II 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 amid revelations of 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”*—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.
* Hilary Mantel
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
Praise for The Girl in the Garden
“Readers will come to understand and love [Wallace’s characters] as they begin to understand and love themselves and each other…Wallace deftly handle their interactions with one another, and her ability to share how those interactions become meaningful as they grow to know and trust each other. Indeed, the menagerie of characters are at the heart of this story, and Wallace’s treatment of their growing and healing relationships lend themselves to deep interest and high praise… the girl in the garden, June, serves as a catalyst for contemplating the themes Wallace is concerned with: alienation, family, relationships, loss, love, and the courage life often demands—all of which are handled poignantly and powerfully. If there were a library shelf for Resilience or Human Spirit, The Girl in the Garden would surely be shelved there.” —NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS
"Powerful. . . . The book focuses on the resiliency of the human spirit. Wallace makes use of long, unconfined sentences to build the many distinctive voices and has a knack for teasing out important details. This is a quiet, contemplative novel that builds slowly and leaves a lasting impact." —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
"Wallace’s poignant novel is, at once, a portrait of a small, coastal, New England town; a bit of a mystery; and a completely engaging study of an odd mix of characters whose lives become intricately intertwined. . . . Wallace writes with poetic sensitivity as she delves into their lives and backstories, quickly engaging the reader in this close-knit community and the many secrets it harbors." —BOOKLIST
"Lovely. . . [A] sensitive salvation story." —KIRKUS REVIEWS
“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
“Wallace warmly envelops the reader in the essence of her setting… The Girl in the Garden is populated with scarred characters; some carry visible scars while others harbor hidden ones. Each suffers on the fringes of society because of these scars. But Wallace shows how healing acceptance can be. Soulful and exquisite, this novel blooms with the beauty of humanity.”—Shelf Awareness
“Real suffering and real compassion make for a believable, winning tale."—Washington Independent Review of Books
“The Girl in the Garden is a novel by Melanie Wallace that proves the kindness of strangers can heal wounds that exist far below the surface… Wallace finds a way to thoughtfully intertwine the characters and the effect the have on each other’s lives.”—PULSE Magazine
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