I got The Memory Garden delivered on my yoga night, and despite the fact that Mary and I first bonded over our mutual love of yoga I could not put down the book and go.
It is an all-encompassing book. It enfolds you, like the garden (the garden is its own character in this novel: strong and heady and sweet and a little dangerous). You forget you are not Nan, the main character.
I read this book while staying home, nursing a cold. I was puffy and horrible-looking, my hair sticking up at wild angles, circles under my eyes.
But each time I got up from the book to go to the bathroom (which was a lot; I was pushing fluids), I would first be surprised by how easily and fluidly my ill, stiff and disabled body moved. But compared to Nan, whom I thought I was, it was like I’d gained superpowers. I would catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I washed my hands, I was astounded by how young I looked: my skin so fresh, my body so round and firm. Each time, I would laugh. I am 43 years old, I would tell myself. I am Haddayr. I am living in the inner city, not out in the country surrounded by a wild and riotous and beautiful garden.
But Mary’s power of place, and character, and voice, would soon suck me in again, and again I would be 79-year-old Nan, raising a teenage girl, hiding my secrets from everyone including, sometimes, myself — every move I made all at once precious and doomed as I waited for death or for the sheriff to come and arrest me for a long-ago crime, or for my daughter to stop loving me when she knew the truth. Vague, confused at times. Losing track of present and past. Bewildered by the profusion of old friends I thought I’d lost long ago, suddenly filling my home.
Although I was an old woman, I was reading as I had when a child: completely immersed, no longer myself.
What a gift! What a glorious, eerie, dark and confusing gift this book is, if only just for that.
But of course, it is much more than that. It is about being women and girls together. And about being weird, and about history and the power of women. It is about old shoes and destruction and beautiful friendships. Ghosts, of course (this is Mary Rickert, after all) and attempted murder. And the terrible things people do. And the wonderful ways in which they love each other.
When this book was finished, I cried and clasped it tightly to my chest so it could be nearer to my heart. And then I wept some more.