May 6, 2014
Review: The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert
Author: Mary Rickert
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: May 6, 2014
ISBN: 1402297122 (ISBN13: 9781402297120)
Length: 304 pp
Nan Singer hasn't seen her two childhood best friends, Ruthie and Mavis, in sixty years. She always thought they'd be close their whole lives but a tragedy involving their other friend Eve and the secrets surrounding that tragedy drove a wedge between the girls and they all went their separate ways.
Now an old woman, Nan has been raising Bay, the baby she found in a box on her front steps fourteen years ago. Nan is used to people leaving shoes on her porch for her unusual shoe garden, but never did she ever think someone would leave a baby. Bay is fourteen now and Nan is afraid the secrets from her past are about to be unearthed and with no one else to care for Bay, she reluctantly reaches out to her old friends in the hopes they will be willing to help out.
Nan is not the only one in the big old house keeping secrets. Bay notices someone lurking in the woods surrounding their garden but is keeping if from Nan. Bay has always heard the whispers around town that Nan is a witch and Bay has never believed it, but she is beginning to wonder if they are right. She's noticed herNana has been very stressed ever since she announced these old friends were coming to visit. Once Mavis and Ruthie arrive, things get even weirder. Though Bay would like to know what is really going on, Bay is too afraid to find out what it is and just wants everything to get back to normal, whatever that is.
When I read the synopsis for this book, my curiosity was automatically piqued because I do enjoy magical realism and I felt this was right up that alley. There are several aspects of the book that give it great potential for a mysterious, magical story, but I have to say I had difficulty connecting to them, especially in the beginning. I loved the idea of the peculiar shoe garden and how at the beginning of each chapter Rickert included a description and meaning of a flower that was incorporated into that chapter. I felt that was a cute idea and it helped tie the garden into the story.
There is a lot going on in this story and it was difficult for me to follow, especially in the beginning. I believe the author wanted to build up to a big reveal and keep referring to the secrets that were being kept and wanted to keep the reader guessing, but I found myself getting confused and having to go back and re-read pages to make sure I was getting it right. That is the main reason I had difficulty connecting. At 33% done, I was growing frustrated because I felt the story was just not taking off. Finally at around 55 or 60%, I started connecting and got into the story. Typically, I will give up on a book by that time, but I really wanted to love this book so I kept reading. I am happy to say that I enjoyed the book from that point on. Eventually the confusion began to clear, I knew who I was dealing with and I finally grasped the idea the author had. I am sorry it took me so long to get there, but at least I did and I can even say that I liked the ending of the book very much.
After finishing the book and thinking back on what I'd just read, the ending and the message it conveyed, I started appreciating Rickert's vision of what she wanted to do with this book. THE MEMORY GARDEN is a book about friendship, secrets, loyalty, regret and forgiveness. Once you finish reading, its for the reader to sit back and decide which characters were real and which characters were not. If you haven't read it, you may not understand that last comment, but that's OK. I'm not going to ger more specific than that because I always try not to give anything away in my reviews. You'll have to read it and see for yourself.
The bottom line for me is that even though I had a rough start with this one, I am glad I stuck with it and I will try more of Ricker's work in the future.