- Hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: Scribner (July 10, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1416539026
- ISBN-13: 978-1416539025
- Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,845,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Mother Garden: Stories
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In surreal tales of loss and discovery, Romm explores the broken worlds of men and women surviving the death of a parent, child, or spouse, as well as the painful days leading up to their losses. The stories in Romm's second collection frequently have a hint of magic realism. In one, a long-abandoned daughter walking her dog through the desert discovers a man wrapped in a dirty sheet. Someone has tied a note to his foot that reads: This is your father. Do as you will, so she decides to take him home. In another, after the protagonist's mother dies, pathologists find dozens of colorful beads in her stomach. The daughter makes a necklace of the beads, clinging to a last, inexplicable reminder of her mother's life. Romm also depicts the effect death has on her characters' romantic relationships. Deaths that come too early and conflicts left unsettled leave characters searching, finding, and often losing again. Through it all, a combination of spare prose and fantastic events makes Romm's seemingly simple tales startling and compelling. Boyle, Katherine
"These stories are fantastic -- in both senses of the word. They are also eerie and moving, and they mark the debut of a very gifted young writer."
-- Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier
"The Mother Garden presents a wonderful new voice. I found the stories full of lively quirkiness, many individual sentences pulsing with surprising word choices and imagery, and graceful endings that made me smile -- sometimes quite nervously, but always appreciatively."
-- Ann Beattie, author of Follies
"Imagination soars over sorrow in these heartfelt, darkly comic -- and most important -- fearless stories. Robin Romm is a writer of tremendous grace, and this is a striking first collection."
-- Peter Orner, author of The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
"These fresh, unpredictable stories tackle the most difficult of subjects -- death -- with a fairytale strangeness that makes them unique. With dreamlike clarity, Romm charts the altered state of grief, beckoning us into a surreal yet sharply familiar world." -- Eric Puchner, author of Music Through the Floor --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Romm said in writing the stories it was never the goal to figure those deep themes out, but "it's the process." She must have really tried it to figure it out, from multiple angles, to explain the wide array of similar-sounding stories. Whether it was a resentful daughter of a woman dying of cancer, a resentful daughter of a woman who buries herself alive in her own weight, or even a father resentful of his wife and daughter: there was definitely resentment all around, seething quietly in a corner, underlying a lot of stories. However, despite the similarities of the pieces, she still manages to hang on to the reader by her deft language and striking word choice. Her endings rarely give the characters any answers or resolution, but Romm wants it that way. "I don't like it when a reader puts the book down and says `Ah,' and that's it," she says. Instead, she opts for a more open-ended approach, one where the story is open to unlimited possibilities, and it is up to the reader to decide what unfolds for these protagonists.
What is interesting about the protagonists is the gender of the main characters. While the majority is woman, two stories "Celia's Fish" and "The Egg Game," are told in men's perspective. Romm, when asked if her writing process was any different for writing a man's voice, shrugged off the question. "It's the same," she says. "I just try to imagine the man's perspective. But I suppose it is easier writing a woman's experience." Apparently, she is very natural capturing men's actions and motivations, because she does so so brilliantly, such as in the "Game," in which a man deals with impending fatherhood and commitment to his wife. Impressive still in the story, is how not only does she write from a man's perspective, but also from another race entirely.
I felt the weakest story in the collection was the title story, "The Mother Garden." I felt that it was a bit confusing, as there were never any clear or explanatory lines drawn for the reader as to how much magical realism is taking place. Romm noted that she felt more literary freedom when dealing with heavy issues such as death and grief, when she went for fairy tale-like feel or absurdity. The mother garden concept itself was intriguing, but I felt wasn't executed effectively. It seemed awkward almost, or forced, having Claire recruit these women to stand in a garden. The story straddled the line between realism and absurdity, and if it leaned more towards one way or another, it would have worked better. The highlight for me was reading the distinct dialogue of the, albeit one-dimensional, mother characters.
In the end, I appreciate the craft of Garden, but would like to see more variety in her content. Some places could have been more developed or worked on for better cohesion, but for the most part Romm is a great observer of the world and an expert on expression. In many instances she took my breath away with her simple, elegant and honest prose that it is enough to make me a fan.
Watching her mother's battle (and nine year victory) against an insidious illness and experiencing the loss of her death has obviously given the author a lot to think (and write) about. And she does a great job of creating clever, varied stories that hint at her ordeal. Lost and Found, and The Mother Garden, probably the oddest of the lot, were especially good. I think that the book would have been even better, though, without the inclusion of several intimate encounters as well as the use of my least favorite body part reference/expletive (find it in Family Epic). Even so, The Mother Garden is a great tribute to the author's mother's, to which the book is dedicated. Also good: The Mercy Papers by Robin Romm, The Summer of Ordinary Ways by Nicole Lea Helget, and The Twelve Little Cakes by Dominika Dery.