Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58036-1
Paranormal Fiction, 2001
The Wishing Garden has some literally magical scenes right out the most romantic fairy tales I can think of hidden somewhere amidst this book. But to get there, I must sit through some of the most unlikable people I’ve ever encountered. Whining, bickering, sulking, and lots of self-pity are dosed liberally as if they are running out of fashion.
Heroine Savannah Dawson is a woman who likes to think herself as ethereal, but if you ask me, she’s the more not-there sister of that Phoebe woman from Friends. She plays Tarot cards as a means to escape the tediousness of her overly-rebellious (and irritating) daughter Emma. One day she draws a bad card – ouch. And next thing she knows, her estranged mom Maggie calls to announce that Doug, Savannahs’s father, is dying of cancer. Show time, people. Let’s all huddle in Doug’s house to see the depression, shall we?
There, Savannah meets Jake, a special man with a big secret – he has magic in his hands, and can make everything and anything. Then there’s Eli, a rebel boy who is taken under Jake’s wing.
Everyone huddles up and acts gloomy. Savannah hangs her head down in abject self-pity, Emma grits her teeth and shows everyone the finger, Maggie whines and hisses, Doug tries not to die before making everyone as miserable as possible taking care of him, and Eli acts like Bart Simpson-meets-Freddy Krueger.
Underneath the misery and pretentious “Look Ma, sad people!” arty-fartiness, however, lies the the Wishing Garden, Doug’s garden that he maintains as his expression of his love for Maggie. Here too, Maggie becomes a temporary tragic heroine, as she quietly maintains the garden to keep the plants in bloom without her “hated” husband’s knowledge (but he knows). The flowers in the garden are always in bloom and effervescent no matter what time of the year it is. It is the garden that brings out the humanity in Maggie and Doug, making them human that make mistakes instead of the almost ridiculous caricatures they are in most of the book.
Jake is a wonderful man, the sole “good” fellow among all the depression and anger. Simple, kind, a generous soul, now that’s a man who singly keeps the story from degenerating into a morass of dysfunction.
Also, I must admit that I just love the whimsical, fanciful, and always elegant writing style. Ms Yorke has polished up her prose more tightly; the contradiction between the buoyant prose and the gloominess of the cast makes an interesting read in itself.
But still, it’s obvious that Ms Yorke still hasn’t gotten a hang on making dysfunctional people real. The lost and the miserable in The Wishing Garden are pathetic rather than sympathetic. She also tries to show that redemption may not be the happily-ever-after one can dream about, but thanks to the fact that every other sad person here are so narcissistic about their misery and pain, the whole beauty of the theme is lost entirely. Me, I am wondering when Sasha the wonder dog would suggest that all those sad people should hie off to the vet’s office and ask to be put to sleep.
Perhaps if the main characters are less self-absorbed on their miseries for so long, perhaps if Savannah loses her temper and screams to Emma, “That’s it, young lady! Shut the hell up until you learn how to be nice to your own mother!” and to Maggie, “Get a grip, mother!”. Perhaps if Jake would gather everyone around and tell them to get therapy. Perhaps Doug should just scream for Dr Kervokian. Perhaps if The Wishing Garden didn’t take itself so seriously. So many perhaps.