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The Wonder Garden

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John likes to arrive first. He enjoys standing quietly with a house before his clients arrive, and today, although he feels pinned beneath an invisible weight, he resolves to savor this solitary moment. It’s one of those overhauled ranches so common to Old Cranbury these days, swollen and dressed to resemble a colonial. White, of course, with ornamental shutters and latches pretending to hold them open. A close echo of its renovated sisters on Whistle Hill Road, garnished with hostas and glitzed with azaleas. He has seen too many of these to count…

A man strikes an under-the-table deal with a surgeon to spend a few quiet seconds closer to his wife than he's ever been; a young soon-to-be mother looks on in paralyzing astonishment as her husband walks away from a twenty-year career in advertising at the urging of his spirit animal; an elderly artist risks more than he knows when he's commissioned by his newly-arrived neighbors to produce the work of a lifetime.

In her stunning debut collection, The Wonder Garden, Lauren Acampora brings to the page with enchanting realism the myriad lives of a suburban town and lays them bare. These linked stories take a trenchant look at the flawed people of Old Cranbury, incisive tales that reveal at each turn the unseen battles we play out behind drawn blinds, the creeping truths from which we distract ourselves, and the massive dreams we haul quietly with us and hold close.

Deliciously creepy and masterfully complex The Wonder Garden heralds the arrival of a phenomenal new talent in American fiction.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published May 5, 2015

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About the author

Lauren Acampora

4 books202 followers
Lauren Acampora is the author of The Hundred Waters, The Paper Wasp, and The Wonder Garden, all published by Grove Atlantic.

The Hundred Waters, published in August 2022, has been named one of Vogue’s best books of the year, a LitHub best book of the summer, and one of The Millions’ most-anticipated books of 2022.

Lauren’s first novel, The Paper Wasp was published in 2019 and named a Best Summer Read by The New York Times Book Review, USA Today, Oprah Magazine, ELLE, Town & Country, BBC.com, Daily Mail (UK), Tatler, Thrillist, and Publishers Weekly, as well as a Best Indie Novel of 2019 by Chicago Review of Books. It was also longlisted for The Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize and nominated for the Kirkus Prize.

The Wonder Garden, a debut collection of linked stories, was named a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and an Indie Next selection, and was chosen as one of the best books of 2015 by Amazon and NPR. It won the GLCA New Writers Award and was a finalist for the New England Book Award. It was on the longlist for The Story Prize and nominated for the Kirkus Prize.

Lauren Acampora is a 2021 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in Fiction from The New York Foundation for the Arts. Her short fiction and other writing has appeared in publications such as The Paris Review, Guernica, New England Review, Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner, Antioch Review, The New York Times Book Review, and LitHub. She graduated from Brown University, earned an MFA at Brooklyn College, and has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, Writers OMI International Residency, and the Ragdale Foundation. Lauren lives in Westchester County, New York with her husband, artist Thomas Doyle, and their daughter.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 342 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,847 reviews34.9k followers
January 3, 2021
$1.99 kindle download today... if you missed it.... this is a great price. One of the most unique and enjoyable inter-connecting storytelling books -
You can tell I loved it- yes? Lol
Hope others do too !

Old review:

The STRONGEST 5 stars of 5 STARS*****

OH MY FRICKIN GOD .....THIS BOOK is UNBELIEVABLY BRILLIANT!!! If I read no other book this year --If this book won BEST BOOK of the year --ALL would be GROOVY in "My Wonder Land". I just died-and-went to heaven discovering this 'short-story-novel'. A reader cannot simply call this a collection of short stories. Nor can it be called a novel, per say. Think "Fusion". Fusion - mastery - Storytelling!!!

Lauren Acampora is ridiculously talented. Her writing is vertiginously exciting!
"The Wonder Garden" is a perfect book club choice. Being as fresh and original as it is --its also an opening for intellectually stimulating discussions.

Rather than comment on each of the 13 stories individually --I'll quote a few sentences where I 'stopped' to to think. [I'm still thinking ...and will think about this book for a long time]....I am intentionally being careful --avoiding spoilers.

1) "He understands now that every man keeps a detail or two in a neutral place inside his own brain, and the wise ones never enter that particular cabinet".

2)"This is one of those times that being a mother feels like a form of slavery, this constant servitude to a tyrant's whims. Nothing can come fast enough for her daughter, nothing is enough.

3)"Coming back here, it just reminds me how insidious nationalism always is. This place especially, with its fetishization of history and patriotism, is unbelievable. So much pride, but in what? This great country was founded on 'murder'. Do you know how many Native Americans were massacred in the colonies?"

4)"But it was too fast, it was too slow. And one day he became a boy, kicking a bicycle to the ground."

5)"His name is Apocatequil, in case you meet him"

Love, love, love, this book! Thank you sooooooo much to a very favorite publishing company Grove Atlantic and Netgalley. A very special Thank you to the author. I can't wait to read more Lauren Acampora.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,284 reviews119k followers
August 29, 2019
As they approach the gate Bethany thinks of the town, small and safe, awaiting their return. It is cloistered, claustrophobically familiar, but maybe—and her mother’s trembling hands return to her—mired with its own dark disturbances. It is its own kind of restive campground, in a way, its properties penciled upon common land, impinging on one another despite the fences meant to hold them apart. Huddled in that encampment are each of their families, steely cohorts within the greater clan.
Old Cranbury, CT is an older, well established suburb. In the historical part of town some of its homes date from the 18th century, and still carry the names of the families who built them.  Residents of those particular homes take pride in preserving their piece of history, some of them maybe a bit too much. OC is a lovely place, a mostly middle and upper-middle-class suburb. Good schools, trimmed lawns. Unlike Chester’s Mill, Wayward Pines, Royston Vasey, or the Village, you can leave if you choose, but you will want to stick around at least long enough to get through the baker’s dozen stories about the local residents in The Wonder Garden.

Lauren Acampora

There are plenty of weeds in Lauren Acampara’s linked-stories collection, but not the stories. The tales are flower-show ready.  I imagine we have all read, seen or heard groups of tales about a particular town, or location. Our Town, Spoon River (yes, yes, I know, poems, not stories), Olive Kitteridge.  Now, think hard. Were any of them yuck-fests? Didn’t think so. Ditto here. It is true that most of these stories show a less than lovely side of life in Old Cranbury. The sins are far from original. Disappointment permeates. But there are rays of sunshine as well. Change is possible, at least for some. Hopes may be dashed, but not all of them, and that there are plenty to go around gives one hope that in their imagined lives, some of these folks might live to see their dreams come true. Most of the characters are just trying to make the best of their circumstances. 

It would not be a portrait of a town if the residents were not watering at least a garden-full of secrets.
she becomes aware of the hidden, parallel world beneath the mundane. Just beneath the surface of every defunct moment—finding a spot in the supermarket parking lot, waiting at a stoplight—lurks another moment, sexual, adulterous, waiting to be chosen. It shimmers faintly, a phosphorescent arc of lighter fluid ready to catch fire, detectable only to those attuned to it. She parks the car and watches the men and women going in and out through automatic the doors. Which of them are alight, secretly smoldering?
Unfaithfulness is to be expected. Some marriages are strained, while others, surprisingly, appear to be strengthened by big changes. How about wanting to violate all medical ethics to perform a very strange and intimate act? Maybe show the world the face of a concerned citizen but indulge in a bit of pointed vandalism? There is plenty of imposturing going on here. Maybe parenthood is not for everyone, including some parents? Maybe nurture fears that go well beyond the understandable? A sense of the past permeates as well. There is enough moral ambiguity through the thirteen to spark book group debates aplenty.

Unlike Olive Kitteridge, there is no single character serving as a trellis on which the stories can be strung like vines. But there is considerable back and forth. Characters are woven into and out of stories like threads in a tapestry. The author likes to introduce characters in one story and offer us their names elsewhere. Acampora admits that she inserted some of the connective tissue later on in the writing process, says the links “presented themselves” to her. It is the town itself that is the organizing structure. But there are some elements that repeat. Gardens appear in many of the stories, serving diverse purposes. Another element that struck me was the characterization of the houses of OC as particularly organic.
He intends to keep the bones of the house strong and its organs clean for decades to come, even as the skeletons of newer houses rise and fall around it.

These machines are the pumping heart of the house; everything else is frivolous and disposable in comparison.

The house is gigantic, encrusted with a dark carapace, as if diseased.

The exposed oak beams are strong as ribs along the ceiling of the first floor and the central chimney and hearth—spine and heart of the house—exude the smell of ancient smoke.
And there are more like these. On one level, one might even wonder, in a darker vein, whether people inhabit the town or if the town inhabits them. The homes, as might be expected, often reflect the lives of those who live within.

The language of the book is at times lyrical and compelling, more effectively so for the pedestrian circumstances in which it shines:
John meets the woman’s eyes again, the crystalline irises with nothing in them but confidence in the universe. He feels nearly dead in comparison, more exhausted by the moment, as if he were being depleted by her presence. It seems that there is a lack of air in this place, that the windows have been sealed shut for decades, since the long-ago children were last measured. A slow moment elapses. In the space of this pause, John feels the breath of the past, the cumulative exhalation of the house and its lost inhabitants. They seem to gather in the basement’s webbed corners, fuzzed with dust and dead skin. It strikes him that this is a last capsule of memory, that when it is swept and painted, the raw floor carpeted and windows unstuck, no trace of life will remain. The history of the house will persist only in the memories of its former residents, those far-flung stewards of dwindling, inexact images.
The characters that populate Acampara’s thirteen tales are quite well realized, particularly so, considering the short form involved. The Wonder Garden is a powerful, beautifully written work of fiction. I am sure the horticultural society will approve.

Review first posted – 6/12/15

Publication date – 5/5/2015

I received this volume from GR’s First reads program – thanks guys
It was first recommended to me by my good, much younger, GR pal - Elyse. I am in your debt.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and FB pages

The Wonder Garden found its origin in The Umbrella Bird story.  Acampora completed a novel, from the perspective of the wife, Madeleine, but thought it was just not good enough. The Umbrella Bird in this collection is the primary remaining nugget from that project. Some of the supporting cast from the novel show up in the collection as well.

Acampora grew up in Darien, the inspiration for The Stepford Wives, so knows her suburban towns. In visiting Darien as an adult, she found that the houses seemed almost like characters.

Here is an audio interview from The Avid Reader. Beware, though. The sound quality is poor, as the host’s volume is way higher than the author’s so you will have to keep turning the volume way up and way down to keep from being knocked out of your seat.

The author in an exchange with Lily King on B&N

Here is one complete story from the collection, The Umbrella Bird

The Wonder Garden was an Amazon Book of the Month selection for May, 2015

=============================THE STORIES

Ground Fault - John Duffy is a building inspector with a perceptive eye, and a willingness to let life’s disappointments affect his work. He could probably do with a bit of self-inspection.

Afterglow - Harold, a wealthy corporate raider, wants to be a part of his wife’s brain surgery in an unusual, and very intimate way

The Umbrella Bird - David is fed up with his corporate nine-to-five. Fixated on building a tree house for his expected child, he finds a very different muse, and his life goes in a brand new direction.

The Wonder Garden - Rosalie is a very involved, mother hen of a parent, with children in several grades of the local school. She sits on boards, hosts an exchange student, but there might be a serpent in her garden.

Swarm - Martin, a tenured professor at a state university, is offered the chance of a lifetime to create an art project that would make up for the decades in which he had had to put his art aside. But what might the cost be for realizing this dream?

Visa - Camille is a single mother who has found an amazing guy. They plan a wondrous vacation together. Can he possibly be for real?

The Virginals - Roger and Cheryl Foster live in an 18th century house. They are heavy into the Revolutionary War period, trying to live as much like those earlier Americans as possible. But the new owners of the period house across the way do not seem quite so enthusiastic. What’s a good neighbor to do?

Floortime - Career woman Suzanne Crawford is the single mother of a boy who appears to be on the autism spectrum. This would present a challenge to most parents, but if one’s maternal instincts are on the low end, the problem looms larger.

Sentry - when her neighbor’s child is left unattended for a prolonged time, Helen Tanner invites her in, to hang out a while, then a while longer, then…

Elevations - Mark and Harris own an antiques shop. They share a lovely home. But they may want different things out of life.

Aether - Some young people from OC are at a music festival when something goes terribly wrong.

Moon Roof - Lois Hatfield, on her way to a party thrown by her husband’s boss, gets caught at an intersection and cannot decide when to go.

Wampum - uneasy at a party thrown by the local one-percenters, Michael succumbs to a bit of paranoia, with dangerous results.
Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews202 followers
November 15, 2015

Just a quick update, not sure if it's a temporary price, but if you are interested the Kindle version of this book is only $2.99, great deal!!


The Wonder Garden

Lauren Acampora photo Lauren_zpsizgzq52g.jpg
Lauren Acampora, the author

"They'd come as a pair of anthropologists to masquerade among the natives, or so Mark had thought, to mirror their culture and borrow from its abundance.They were not supposed to adopt it, they were not supposed to blend."

From The Wonder Garden- Elevations

If you've even taken a stroll around your neighborhood and wonder what happens inside your neighbor's homes, who they truly are in their privacy of their lives and what secrets are held behind those walls, The Wonder Garden might be the ticket to indulge some of those voyeuristic tendencies.

Set in the fictional New England town of Old Cranbury, Acampora's narrative on these great collection has been described by critics as the one of an urban anthropologist, fascinated with the customs and rituals of its residents and determined to unearthed the secret lives of its suburbanites.

The Wonder Garden includes 13 interconnected stories that not only portrait the inhabitants of Old Cranbury, but also the houses they lived in, which play an important role in many of them.

Some of these homes, located in the historical district part of town, date back to the 18th century and many of the residents take pride in preserving their original structure. Albeit some of them are more obsessed with this mission than others.
The author's penchant for providing architectural details and description of historical artifacts was very interesting.
So Acampola seems to me to write both with the perspective of an Anthropologist and an Archaeologist.

The way the book is structured helps keep the reader engaged as you keep finding that characters from previous stories suddenly make an appearance a few stories later.

The brilliance of Acampora's writing is that when these "old" characters reappear they haven't been frozen in time but rather have continue to develop and grow.
This serves as a sort of "plot acceleration mechanism" that gives the reader a sense of reading a novel rather than one of short stories, but also provides its characters with more layers and nuance than you'd expect on this type of genre.

The characters comes in all shapes and forms, there are married couples, single people, parents, children, doctors, artists and spiritual leaders.
At first glance Old Cranbury looks like just another affluent, conventional town. But underneath its seemingly pleasant facade and its picture-perfect Victorian houses, we soon get to discover some of its most bizarre and disturbed residents.

Throughout these stories we witness school boards arguments, judgmental neighbors that see themselves as the "torchbearers, defenders of the original residents and their ideals", quarrels over zoning and renovations plans and tensions over parenting styles.

Here is a brief description of some of my favorites stories:

The Wonder Garden- In the collection’s title story, we follow a Christian housewife who welcomes a Bangladeshi foreign exchange student into her home, a decision that eventually leads to unexpected results.

Floortime- It's about a mother struggling to reach her autistic son and who is desperate enough to consider using unconventional methods to achieve this goal.

Elevations- About an aging gay couple struggles with their relationship and how their respective life journeys and personal growth has taken them apart .

Swarm- A rich couple commissions a retired teacher with artistic aspirations to design giant insects to cover every external wall of their colonial home.

The Umbrella Bird- Describes the story of a woman who must come to terms with her husband's drastic and unexpected career change.

Moon Roof- Which I found fantastic, it's about a woman's inability to move into traffic, the whole story takes place while she's in her car frozen and seemingly unable to do anything. This experience would ultimately allow her to explore personal issues she has previously neglected to confront.

Although each story can be read as a stand-alone, I think that reading them in order would give the reader a better understanding and a more satisfactory reading experience.

The book offers some hints of social commentary but for the most part these characters remain completely involved in their privileged bubble, incapable of seeing beyond their suburban needs and their "keeping up with the Joneses mentality".

The Wonder Garden it's a wonderful, deliciously bizarre collection of short stories written with depth and beautiful language. Although many of these characters are often odd, they are also deeply human, therefore easy to relate to.

With its dark and creepy set of stories but also its refreshingly creative writing, I must definitely recommend this jewel of a book!

Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,686 reviews14k followers
June 26, 2015
What a wonderful collection of connected stories. As a child in Chicago, I remember walking past houses on my block, and making up stories with my friends about what was happening in those houses. This is what these stories are, a personal glimpse behind doors of the people who live on Old Cranbury road. So very interesting because some of the characters,receive multiple points of view, so in some of the stories we see what people think of a certain family and then we are treated to a glimpse of what the actual family is like, by the family themselves. Absolutely brilliant. Plus I liked every story which is always a big plus.
Profile Image for Jenna 🧵.
218 reviews77 followers
January 24, 2016
Apologies to any Goodreads friends or others whose superlative reviews I may have doubted: you are all correct that this unassuming-looking little book really is That Good!

Masterful and nearly flawless, both in each story and as a whole! Acampora's prose is so confident and sure that it's nearly impossible to fathom that this is her first book - and I say this even having recently read many other excellent debut works. Acampora writes like she came into this earth doing it already.

Usually, when I write a rave review, on some level I'm still thinking that although *I* really loved a particular book, it may not work for others as well as it worked for me. Not so with this book. It is so near-perfection in concept and execution that it's nearly impossible for me to imagine that other readers of literary fiction won't find it pretty impressive and enjoyable. If I worked at a bookstore or library or other setting where I had people asking me what to read, I'd point them toward this. If this book won an award, instead of being like, "I guess they had to pick one to be the winner," I'd be like, "Yes. I totally get that."

And I'm usually really hard on books like this, of the "dark side of upscale suburbia" variety. It's such a common and often tired sub-genre, so it takes a lot to convince me why I should care about yet another book of this stripe, or how it might offer something new and interesting to the whole "something is rotten in upscale Connecticut" conversation. But Acampora's talent allowed me to easily cast aside any such skepticism. People are right that she possesses a sociologist's level of observational skill which, when combined with her poetic prose, illuminates relevant and fascinating human themes that can transcend the specific setting. It's posh historicized New England, but it's still the human condition.

The underlying darkness of this book belies the easy reading. (Although certainly the book is leavened by ample dark humor as well.) We meet characters who have constructed various worldviews, relationships, and identities in attempt to make meaning of their lives -- e.g. History, Patriotism, Community Leader -- only to witness these meaning-making structures collapse around them. Sure, we might scoff at some of the characters' thinking, which often comes across as vain, pedestrian, self-righteous. However, because Acampora is so skilled, she doesn't just take pot shots at her characters and leave them sitting prey to easy scorn. Somehow, they remain somewhat sympathetic, no matter how misguided. As the author stated herself in an interview on "The Avid Reader" podcast, it's somehow made clear that the characters are doing the best they can with their (ironically) limited (internal) resources, and that on some level, all the characters have good intentions. It's like reading some more merciful and less creepy Yankee version of Flannery O'Connor that instead of leaving you feeling confirmed that mankind is dumb and pretty much damned, you're left feeling inspired to develop a little more empathy and feelings of grace toward the total asshat on the cellphone who's inexplicably tailgating you.

It's worth mentioning that Acampora does a great and NOT overdone or contrived job of creating subtle linkages between some of the stories and characters. This enhances everything and makes the reader do just the right amount of work. It's NOT one of those horrible affairs where everyone in the end Comes Together to stand around staring at the Grand Canyon or some shit, Being As One and marveling at the INTERCONNECTEDNESS.

If I had to say two more words that this book is about: Real Estate. But like, in the fullest possible sense. Acampora is amazing at doing the whole "house (or village) as psyche" thing: all the characters in this book are buying, selling, expanding, remodeling, designing, furnishing, inspecting, decorating, destroying, preserving -- and even installing avant-garde, vermin-themed art installations onto! -- their houses. And it all means something, and it's fabulous.

This is already too long, but I want to give a shout out to some favorite stories to look out for:

"The Umbrella Bird" - an ultimate "what if?" kind of story about an atypical and fascinating midlife crisis of sorts that may leave a partner wishing he'd just gotten the red convertible instead?

"Floortime" - linked to the above, and one of the best and most original, unsentimental stories I've seen about raising a child with autism - fierce and devastating.

"The Virginals" - totally amazing and unique story about a far-too-neglected topic in short fiction, and one perhaps way familiar to anyone who's lived in New England or worked at a museum (I have both!): historical reeenactors! Great detailed story about the allure and peril of fetishizing history - with an unexpected creative twist at the end!

"Swarm" - this is the vermin-themed art installation story - I've already tried to pique your curiosity there, because it's a great story. Poignant and about hubris, I guess - a bit of an Icarus theme. "The Wonder Garden" is another story a bit about a family betrayal of sorts stemming from hubris gone way awry...

"Aether" - moving coming of age and loss of innocence story - about the fruitless search for authenticity in a culture of consumption.

"Sentry" - another great What If? story that gets at those dark urges and feelings we have when we think we can do something better than someone else - like raise their child... Like the first story "Ground Fault," this is also about human pride, vanity, envy, and small but shocking acts of rebellion that come from coveting what your neighbor has.

"Moon Roof" - Do you drive around a lot, working and doing errands, with a lot on your mind, and you're tired and unappreciated and people are jerks? If so - you will TOTALLY be able to relate to this story and see it really happening. It needed to be written. I actually can't believe it hasn't been written before. Also a dark comedy, but some won't get that.

"Afterglow" - creepy story about inappropriate ethics and boundaries while searching for intimacy, knowledge, and mastery of death. A kind of riff on the "Bride of Frankenstein" story in a way!

These stories have really stayed with me this week after reading them. They are the kind of short stories that know just how to BE a short story, and to end right where it SLAYS you. Where the hell are all these great short stories coming from lately??!
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,016 reviews551 followers
August 19, 2015
More than a collection of short stories, but not quite a novel. This book is really a series of episodes about a group of people who live in an upper-middle-class town called Old Cranbury, in New England.

It’s difficult to pigeon hole this disparate group of tales. They all focus on different characters, but old faces and connections crop up and by the end I felt I had a pretty good grasp of the inhabitants of this rather posh town. But the overall mood is a uniting force too - to me there was something about the behaviours of the inhabitants that felt just a little ‘off’. Some of the individuals were a bit eccentric, and the relationships all had a somewhat dysfunctional feel. At times it was like reading a slightly toned down version of Desperate Housewives, alternating with scenes from Twin Peaks and all wrapped up in a town called Camberwick Green (ok, you’d need to be a British child of the 60’s to get the last reference).

It all seems to get darker as the book progresses. There are lies and secrets and insecurities here. Yes, the stuff we’re all surrounded by each and every day. So maybe the whole thing isn't any more than a reflection of what goes on in every small town; in every community, in fact.

It’s certainly a book that made me think about what is important in life. There are some brilliant lines and each episode is really well crafted. It's hard to pick out my favourites but if pressed I'd go with Afterglow (really wierd and scary) and Moon Roof (I feel like I've enacted that one myself!)

Overall it’s really an impressive piece. I’d probably give this 4.5 so I may yet increase my rating, but I’ll leave it at 4 for now and reflect on it a bit – it’s sure to stay with me for a while.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,662 followers
November 18, 2015
Fresh off reading Anthony Marra's brilliant The Tsar of Love and Techno, I jumped into another collection of interrelated short stories, connected by place and characters. Coincidence? Or is this a thing now? Reckon it doesn't much matter if the thing is done well.

The Wonder Garden invites inevitable comparisons to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge because of the New England setting, and of course the interwoven short stories, but the similarities end there. Strout's connective tissue was Olive, and an irrepressible humanity. Acampora does not tie us to any one character, unless it's David, the advertising exec-turned-mystical healer, and her community of Old Cranberry, CT is far more sinister than Strout's hard-scrabble Maine fishing village. It's not tragic, like Marra's Siberia and Chechnya, trapped in an endless cycle of war and surreal political machinations. No, Acampora writes of a place of enormous privilege and opportunity, the 1%, as it were. Hard to muster much empathy for these folks, in their colonial mansions, set back on wide green lawns, with their "help" and country club memberships and Ebel wristwatches.

But I don't think Acampora is really after our empathy. She writes, like Margaret Atwood, with delicious, irresistible irony, flirting with the surreal just enough to make us wonder, yet rooting us in a garden we recognize. We nod and snort and generally feel superior to those whose wealth and privilege have always made us slightly ashamed.

What strikes me is how little resolution and redemption is found in each story. The endings come abruptly, the characters caught in a moment, and we must leave them there, suspended in time. We are left to wonder, Did they learn anything? Have they changed? And then, suddenly, many pages later, that character reappears in someone else's story, as a minor figure, and we catch a glimpse of what their life is like now, or at least how they are viewed from the outside. It's brilliant really, for the author does not interfere. She doesn't explain or editorialize, she just offers moments of lives and lets us sort it on our own.

I thought to highlight individual stories, but that's not why anyone should read this book--it's not that kind of story collection. The Wonder Garden is very nearly a novel, at least this reader read it as such, with the ending of each story feeling more like the ending of a chapter. I couldn't wait to unwrap the next, looking for clues, like a scavenger hunt, wondering how the story would circle back, who I would encounter again.

I think it's trite to say that The Wonder Garden shows those whose lives look perfect from the outside face the same quiet desperation the rest of humanity. What I think it shows, in a darkly funny, bitter, and tragic way is how they simply do not. If there is any desperation, it's how to hang on to facade of perfection, while keeping the real world at bay. In a culture where the gap between the have and the have-nots has become a deep canyon, America's Old Cranberry neighborhoods seem more like colonies designed to keep the lepers out and the flawless safe. Lauren Acampora shows us how it's done from the inside out.
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
583 reviews326 followers
October 23, 2015

Unnerving, disturbing, bizarre, quirky, and just brilliant short stories. I know, you are not a fan of them. This collection could change that.

It reads like a novel. All these houses and their peeps in the same community whose stories sometimes connect and overlap. This book acts like a nanny-cam bringing to life Thoreau’s quote “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Not to mention some of them are just plain twisted. I started this thinking I would read these stories now and then between my other really good books, and because it was one of the very few on my OverDrive wish list available now and I was desperate. If people only knew. There should be a l-o-n-g queue for this one. Seriously, readers are missing out. I could not put it aside.

A taste from a chapter where a woman goes to book club.

"All these women guard the details of their lives. Like surfacing whales, they arch their smooth rounds only briefly into view. The great bulks remain underwater. Once a month they appear, breathe one another in, then dive again...There are alcoholic husbands, certainly. There are prescription drugs, cosmetic surgeries, eating disorders. There must be shames in this room dark or darker than Suzanne’s own. Suzanne sits with her legs tight together, wishing herself out of the room. It is unpleasant to watch adults behave in this way.” (Disclaimer: My BC is not like this)

Thank you to Iris Pereyra's wonderful review https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... pointing the way to this one.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,210 reviews453 followers
September 29, 2015
Every single one of these stories was an absolute jewel. When you add to that the fact that the same characters walk through the pages of each one, giving us a view of "behind closed doors", and what people do and say in public versus their private thoughts, that gets 5 stars in my book. I loved it from start to finish. Think "Olive Kitteridge", but with a neighborhood being the common denominator instead of one person.
I will never look at my neighbors again without wondering what is really happening behind those pleasant faces and normal looking families. If you decided to pass on this one because you don't like short stories, think again. It's a novel in disguise.
Profile Image for Dianne.
549 reviews882 followers
December 6, 2015
Really, really well-done collection of interrelated short stories about the inhabitants of Old Cranbury, Connecticut. The writing is superlative and Acampora has a keen eye. Very interesting - the only challenge for me was trying to keep track of all the characters and figure out how/where they fit into the overall picture.

Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,379 reviews518 followers
May 24, 2019
The Wonder Garden is a superb collection of stories about the undercurrents of suburban life. From a distance, the view of the small Connecticut town Acampora writes about is pristine. The lawns and people are manicured - a homogenous world of privilege and self-satisfaction. But Acampora brings us right up close and unpeels the veneer to expose the craziness and darkness underneath. The cover of my edition shows two homes - one flying up in the air about to crash and the other off kilter, half submerged in a lawn. A perfect image to describe this book. This is a consistently good collection - there is not a single story that I would weed out.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,440 reviews29.4k followers
March 3, 2015
Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Driving through a neighborhood, looking at the houses you pass by, do you ever stop and wonder about the lives of those who live there? Looking from the outside in, we never know about the problems people face, whether their lives are mundane or full of excitement and tension, what their desires and regrets are, and what drives them forward.

Lauren Acampora's intriguing, well-written collection of linked stories, The Wonder Garden , strives to give us insight into the lives of strangers, as she focuses on the residents of Old Cranbury, a well-heeled suburb not far from Manhattan. From John, the home inspector whose intense attention to detail in his professional life hasn't seemed to translate into his personal life; to Madeleine, whose life is upended when her husband leaves his corporate advertising job to pursue a career as a healer; from Harold, whose fascination with the brain veers into bizarre territory after he forms an alliance of sorts with a surgeon; to Camille, whose frustration with motherhood and life after divorce fuels her desire for a life elsewhere, these stories chronicle hope and disillusionment, happiness and hurt, desires realized and desires thwarted.

Acampora does an excellent job creating a sense of a community, and although it's difficult at first to remember which characters were which as they showed up in future stories, once I did, I enjoyed catching another glimpse of them through the lens of another character or situation. Some of the characters are tremendously flawed, some of them are simply caught up in an unexpected or strange situation, and some are just trying to go about their daily lives.

Among my favorite stories in the collection were: "Ground Fault," which followed a home inspector whose personal life is more in disarray than his professional one, but some spillage is inevitable; "Floortime," about a woman struggling to reach her autistic son and willing to consider any means to do so; "Elevations," about a couple struggling with the separate needs of each person; "The Umbrella Bird," which chronicles a woman who must reconcile a drastic change in her husband; and "Moon Roof," in which a woman's inability to move into traffic underscores issues in the rest of her life.

I really enjoyed this collection and think Acampora is a terrific writer. A few of the stories didn't work for me, either because I found the main character so unlikeable or because I found the premise of the story less interesting, but on the whole this is a really strong collection, and definitely signals the arrival of a fantastic new talent.
Profile Image for Lori.
353 reviews417 followers
November 6, 2017
Love this book. Lauren Acompora, in creating the wealthy Connecticut suburb of Old Cranbury, putting faces on its houses and breathing life into their occupants, has presented us with a bit of literary magic. I'm not much for short stories because I find so many inscrutable or pointless or both, but these were crisp and clear, unique and sometimes, and those were the best times, really weird. Characters that seem black and white when we first meet them are colored in in subsequent stories. Questions that arise in the reader's head may be answered later on.

Acampora's writing is lovely, as in this passage in which a woman goes to a book club meeting:

"All these women guard the details of their lives. Like surfacing whales, they arch their smooth rounds only briefly into view. Once a month they appear, breathe one another in, then dive again. There are alcoholic husbands, certainly. There are prescription drugs, cosmetic surgeries, eating disorders. There must be shame in this room dark or darker than Suzanne's own."

The title is taken from from a Bangladeshi exchange student's description of a park near her home that has "water rides and a very big pool, and a motorcycle show called Danger Game," Nayana giggles. "I and my sisters want to go very much. But my mother does not like for us to talk about it. It is too much money, she says, and not necessary." So little, but too much.

Almost everyone in Old Cranbury has much and wants more, or less, like the husband of a woman with a brain tumor paying a decadent neurosurgeon hundreds of thousands of dollars to allow him to touch his wife's brain, and the couple paying big bucks for a bizarre -- and, in Old Cranbury, forbidden -- art installation. "The Virginals" is my favorite story, featuring as it does Cheryl Crawford, a demented Gladys Kravitz type who with her husband becomes addicted to the history of Old Cranbury. No matter how far out these people get, Lauren Acompora never condescends to her characters, not even the wackiest of them. The children are spot on too. Acampora has empathy for all of her characters, the damaged, the catty, the mean, the perverse.

This is a book that begs to be read again, backwards, forwards. I'm sure it has not given up all of Old Cranbury's secrets on first reading. I loved it and will return to Old Cranbury a second, maybe a third time, to delve deeper.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,285 reviews640 followers
October 20, 2016
Another fabulous novel of short stories! I am not a fan of short stories, and chose this novel based on the high reviews of several GR friends. I’m glad their reviews caught my eye. Although it’s billed as a short story novel, many of the characters, and their houses, are woven into other stories. If you’ve ever been curious about your town, and wondered what each families/houses “stories” are, this is a great novel for you.

The town setting is Old Cranbury in Connecticut. Author Lauren Acampora tells thirteen stories about the inhabitants of the town. Each story is a standalone. Yet each story melds into other stories, as small town household stories meld into other family’s stories.

Acampora’s characters are realistic, flawed, and enthralling. The reader is a voyeur into the secret lives of neighbors. Not only is the reader treated to private lives, but also to the internal thoughts and feelings of the characters.

This is a character-driven novel, but it’s also introspective. It’s almost a “passive” read. Acampora’s prose is beautiful. I highly recommend it as a classic study of contemporary small town America.
Profile Image for Veronica.
10 reviews
May 26, 2015
I think the author is a better writer than she is storyteller. Because she IS a good writer and for most part the stories held my attention, but in the end there was no point. Because one pays attention to a story to find out what is going to happen, because you want to know what is going to happen. But these stories are more like character studies than actual stories. You never find out what happens because they just end before any sort of resolution occurs. Some of them jump around in time, but most of them describe a series of events over the course of a day for a character, or even just a few hours. Some of the stories/chapters describe eccentric people, but I wouldn't characterize most of them as weird or scandalous or dark, they are just people who want to have a baby but can't or don't want a baby and their partner does or are cheating on their spouse or realize their spouse is cheating. I thought that the stories might get more interesting as the book progressed but the second to last story was so dull that I started to skim it halfway through. Mild Spoiler Alert (?) -- It is about a woman who is just sitting in her car waiting to make a left turn that she is finding difficult, so she waits and waits and thinks about how she is waiting and going to be late for a party and then she just gives up and naps in the car. WTH? I actually like short stories so my problem with this book wasn't that I don't like short stories. I loved Olive Kitteridge, a book I've seen compared to The Wonder Garden. If you haven't read Olive Kitteridge, read that instead.
Profile Image for Cher.
800 reviews272 followers
September 9, 2016
3.5 stars - It was really good.

Short story collections are not a favorite of mine, but this is one of the more satisfying ones that I have read. Most of the stories are loosely focused around real estate in one way or another with small connections between characters in different stories. Being in the process of moving with real estate transactions, it was easy to become engaged with most of the stories.
Favorite Quote: Perhaps it is understandable that in days of serenity the heart seeks it own friction—whether in defense against, or in ignorance of, the ultimate blow that awaits it.

First Sentence: John likes to arrive first.
Profile Image for Jen.
688 reviews3 followers
July 1, 2015
This collection of short stories probably deserves more than 2 stars based on the author's beautiful way with words, but I just cannot bring myself to award them. I always talk myself into reading short story collections and am invevitably disappointed. They are more character studies than actual stories...just short slices of different lives. Beautifully written, but ultimately unsatisfying.

This collection can be summed up with the famous Henry David Thoreau quote: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation..."

This book delves into the inner turmoil and desperation of seemingly happy suburbanites. The struggles of the residents of this suburb run the gamut from the ordinary (divorce, infidelity,parenthood) to the slightly more odd (woman finds herself unable to make a right turn and just sits at a stop sign and sleeps, woman keeps her neighbor's 4 year old that she finds wandering in the yard).
Profile Image for Leslie Lindsay.
Author 1 book74 followers
June 8, 2015
Oh. My. Gosh. I loved this book. You know that period when you are in book limbo, when nothing else even compares in breadth and depth to what you just read, when the words of everything else you pick up just sound as if they are gobbedly-gook, well...that's how I feel after reading THE WONDER GARDEN.

Technically considered a "novel in short stories," and if we're splitting hairs here, I'd say that's exaclty what a novel is, but on a greater scale; this one just perfectly aligned everything...and in all honesty, I'm not a huge fan of the short story.

Lauren Acampora writes about upper-middle class with such brevity, such darkness, such aplomb that you can't help but become intertwined with the intricacies of it all. It's dark, it's brilliant, it's a little spooky, but mostly fabulous. There were times I even colored the world of Old Cranbury darker and more sinister, thinking Acampora would take us there, but alas, she did not making us wonder...hence, the title, WONDER GARDEN.

I could't put the book down, couldn't stop thinking about the stories, the people who inhabit the pages, the darkness that shrouds our everyday thoughts and actions. To say I loved this book is wholly and understatement.
Profile Image for Staci.
426 reviews20 followers
February 28, 2021
Holy darkness in suburbia! It’s a little bit frightening to recognize how little you inevitably know about your community, about your neighbors, even about the family under your own roof. None of the characters in any of these stories are very likable but they are all very well developed and at the end of each story I found myself disappointed that their time on stage was over. Many of the characters make repeat appearances in each of the stories, often going from main character in one story to supporting character in another, or sometimes they just get an honorable mention. In this way, even though The Wonder Garden is a collection of short stories, it reads almost like a novel. Each story is like a chapter about the town of Old Cranbury, and each of those chapters are written in the perspective of a different citizen of the town.

I really enjoyed this collection. Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Lynne.
556 reviews50 followers
April 22, 2015
I want to read this book again... And maybe even a third time! There are so very many thought provoking themes and connections. It's an excellent book to exercise your memory. Every well-conceived short story is tied to the other. The reader anticipates the connection at the start of each new chapter! Thank you for an amazing read! And thanks to NetGalley for the advanced read from the publisher.
Profile Image for Laurie • The Baking Bookworm.
1,345 reviews355 followers
May 26, 2015
My Review: I am, admittedly, not an avid reader of short stories. In fact, this is only the second time I've read a book of short stories - yes, I am a relative newbie to the genre. The previous book of short stories that I read didn't get me too eager to jump on the ol' bandwagon again. I found that I wanted to know more about the characters and was left hanging when they ended. Thankfully, Acampora is a breath of fresh air and has reignited my desire to read more in this genre.

Acampora's debut novel stood out for me in a few ways. The writing is crisp, to the point and yet very engaging. She doesn't waste any time with excess descriptions but jumps right into the heart of the issues. But the main thing that impressed me was her unique twist in that all of the characters from thirteen short stories all live in the same quaint, upper scale suburb of Old Cranbury and make appearances in each other's stories. I loved how their lives intersected with each other and enjoyed recognizing characters who were introduced earlier. This helped not only give me a better, overall picture of individual characters but also get a sense of how their issues are viewed by those around them. It gave the book an authentic sense of community (granted a pretty dysfunctional one with all of their issues). And oh boy did these people have issues - their vices, insecurities, worries and problems are revealed to the reader. It has a rather twisted feel to many of the stories yet they are, for the most part, relatable on some level. Or maybe I'm a little twisted. Who's to say?

I won't say that all of the short stories engaged me in the same way. I wasn't a fan of a few of them (especially Moon Roof) and sometimes had a hard time remembering which character was which but I definitely had my favourites (ie. Floortime).

Overall this book was impressive, oddly relatable in some ways and was a great opportunity to see behind the facades that people put up. Acampora's writing is engaging, descriptive (without being verbose) and her pace kept me interested throughout. She truly has a knack for showing people's need to find connections with each other, to feel understood and accepted all in a very precise and eloquent way.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

**This book review can also be found on my blog, The Baking Bookworm (www.thebakingbookworm.blogspot.ca) where I share hundreds of book reviews and my favourite recipes. **
Profile Image for Karen Germain.
794 reviews52 followers
August 22, 2015
Has a book ever called to you? When I browse at bookstores, there are far more books that I want, than I can actually buy, so I keep a list on my iPhone of the ones that catch my interest. Lauren Acampora's short story collection, The Wonder Garden, caught my eye at three different bookstores. It just kept popping up, so I finally caved and bought it.

PLOT- In The Wonder Garden, Acampora writes a series of interwoven stories set in the fictional east coast town of Old Cranberry.

LIKE- Acampora is a marvelous storyteller. In The Wonder Garden, she floats between the surface of her characters, and their deep, dark secrets. Reading her stories are like watching a film, in that she has a keen sense of when to zoom in and when to pull back her shots. The pacing is pitch perfect.

Many of Acampora's characters are creepy, unsettling and highly memorable. In particular, there is a wealthy man with a sick wife, who bribes his wife's brain surgeon, to allow him to touch her brain during surgery. Yikes!

The town is filled with historic homes and one couple takes the task of living like they're from the colonial period, clueless as to why their college-aged children don't want to come home for the holidays. They are highly judgmental of their neighbors who do not care as much for preserving the historic properties, especially of a couple who commission an enormous sculpture of insects to run along their front fence. Old Cranberry is a town never short on the bizarre or controversial.

DISLIKE- Nothing. Send more stories please. Now. Please?

RECOMMEND- Absolutely. You must read The Wonder Garden, Acampora has crafted a collection of affecting and unusual stories. I can't wait to see what she cooks up next.

Like my review? Check out my blog!
Profile Image for Lisa.
750 reviews131 followers
March 11, 2017
Like most short story collections, there were a few really good stories and a few duds, but all in all this was a strong collection. I liked that certain characters popped up in other stories. I wouldn't exactly say the stories overlapped, but there was some popping-up. The only problem with this was that each story was so unique that when some of the less memorable characters reoccurred, I was never 100% sure if I was thinking of the right character or if I was imagining the pop-up. There were certain really good, strong elements of this book and some things that I wish the editor would have weeded out or steered the author in another direction entirely. There were some 5 star stories, but there were some 1 star stories. Since my attention was mainly held throughout the book, I feel like I am able to overlook these poorer offerings and opt for a mostly positive review. I'm going to give this one 4 stars because I did like it, it was mostly interesting, and I think we're going to have some good discussion at our Wednesday book club meeting (so obviously this was a book club pick).
Profile Image for Debbie.
1,751 reviews96 followers
May 6, 2015
I'm sitting here after reading this book and looking at the four and five star reviews that have already been posted. I don't get it. I don't get this book with stories just ending haphazardly and the book just ending awkwardly. Stories are only partially told. I read about many problems each of these people are having, yet in my opinion, those stories are still out there waiting to be finished. What happened to the little girl? What happened to the woman who took her? What happened to the gay couple? Did the bullet hit Michael?

Although the writing was good, there were so many characters that I couldn't remember who had done what or was with who. This is one book I cannot conscientiously recommend. Maybe it was the fact that I didn't read it all in one sitting that got me lost with all the characters, but I don't think I could have kept up even if I had.

Thanks Grove Atlantic and Net Galley for providing me with this free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Brian.
1,629 reviews41 followers
July 6, 2015
In this novel....which reads more like a collection of short stories, we hit upon the inner workings of a small town filled with very odd people who have their own set of secrets. Each chapter focuses on a different character, and as you read through the different points of view, you will encounter some characters that have appeared in other stories as well. This worked for me some of the time, but other times, I forgot who someone was and was a bit confused by it. The stories themselves are what earns this book 4 stars. The tales presented are truly interesting and range from a man with a fascination with the human brain in the unconventional sense, a babysitter who won't let go, a woman who deals with her husband's midlife crisis, among many others. The stories are very entertaining, the writing is excellent and this book would have been 5 stars for me if not for the confusion on the various characters.
Profile Image for Tara - Running 'n' Reading.
315 reviews91 followers
May 5, 2015
I've not been truly enthralled by a collection of short stories since Tenth of December by George Saunders; however, author Lauren Acampora has definitely brought the magic back for me! If you are a fan of somewhat dark, borderline "weird" tales that take place in the most unsuspecting environments (suburbia, for example), then you MUST read this collection. I can guarantee that there will be times when you finish one of these stories and you find yourself leaning back in your seat, saying, "Whoa." I mean that in the best way possible.

I don't want to spoil any of the fun for you, but I will say that the stories include many different types of characters: young and old, wealthy and not-so-wealthy, single parents, married couples, artists, doctors, "spiritual healers;" I was blown away by the manner in which Acampora gently weaves them together throughout the collection. The only thing the characters truly have in common is the neighborhood in which they live; you may look at your neighbors differently after reading.

While the stories certainly kept me interested, Acampora's writing is magnificent; her descriptions of this area, the architecture and the people were both provocative and delightful. I could have kept reading much more and was sad to reach the end of the final story. For those of you who end up reading this one, I will tell you as someone who works in a hospital my favorite story was "Afterglow;" I guess you're going to have to read it now to find out why!

Short story collections are wonderful because they are easy to pick up and put down; I never feel tied to any sort of deadline because I know the stories will be there in their disconnected-but-connected way. I would highly recommend this to fans of short stories and it would also make a great discussion piece; I know I can't wait to discuss it more with other readers, so let me know if you pick this one up!
Profile Image for Joanne.
1,071 reviews21 followers
September 14, 2015
What an extraordinarily wonderful collection of stories this book is. The fly leaf tells me that the stories intertwine with each other, in that characters move through various events. It takes a bit of effort at first to remember where you've met that person before in the book, but the backstory always adds to the current one.

There is an element of creepiness to many of the chapters. Certain stories feel like there is something black hovering in the corner waiting to pounce. There are some seriously weird and unpleasant people in Old Cranbury. In the title story, Rosalie's determination to prove to her Bangladeshi exchange student how perfect America is made me squirm. In The Virginals, Roger and Cheryl are so zealous about historical authenticity that it borders on pathology. The shocking ending of Floortime filled me with dread for that family's future. In Sentry, Helen's "babysitting" of little Avis is just plain psychotic. Do I even have to mention the presence of neurosurgeon Michael Warren in numerous unsavoury encounters?

This book is just excellent. I won't forget the stories quickly.
Profile Image for Karen.
552 reviews1,081 followers
July 4, 2015
The writing is good.., however all these stories left in limbo, I wanted to know what happened to these people.
Profile Image for Meg.
28 reviews15 followers
July 12, 2016
For more reviews, visit www.ebooksandcooks.com

This book is different than any other short story collection I’ve reviewed for this blog. The stories are so tightly and deftly woven together that I’m going to write about characters rather than specific stories. These stories take place in the small NYC suburb of Old Cranberry. It is an upper middle class suburb populated mostly by those who work in the city and their spouses. This set of stories spans a longer time period than most short story collections. It is difficult to get an exact number of months, but it seems to be approximately a year.

One of my favorite characters is righteous Rosalie. Rosalie is the mother of four, and now she’s taken in an exchange eighth grader from Bangladesh. Her feelings of superiority of her own way of life (Christian, wealthy, American) make her feel that every experience she gives the student is life changing. She has also been elected to the school board despite not having any of the hard budgeting or business skills of the other members. Her husband, Michael, is an interesting character as well. He is a top brain surgeon at the local hospital. He is being blackmailed by a wealthy businessman and is having affairs with a couple of the town’s residents.

New residents Madeline and David pop up in more stories than any other couple. He is an advertising executive in NYC and has told her to quit her job in order to raise their first child. They move into a house they can barely afford while she is pregnant. David was raised on a farm and takes to living in suburbia quite readily. Madeline is a little more unsure. She becomes very suspicious when David spends hours every night deep in the backyard building a treehouse for their unborn daughter. This is only the beginning of his transformation.

Martin and Philomena are retired and living in a house that has now appreciated to a million dollars, but unlike many of their friends, they have chosen not to sell and move South. Soon new neighbors move into the biggest house on the block. The Gregorys are art collectors from the city. When they find out Martin used to work as an artist and had some shows in famous galleries, they get very excited. The Gregorys commission Martin to do his largest work yet, but he and Philomena pay a steep price for his work.

Harris and Mark are one of the least talked about couples in the book, but they made a big impact on me. They own an antique store in Old Cranberry and take in not only the work of local artists and things they buy in the City, but also they travel abroad to bring back exotic items. There is strife in their marriage; Mark wants to live or travel abroad and help people in a Peace Corp-like situations, whereas Harris wants to start a family. In their story, they try to reconcile these differences while Mark takes on a new job.

These are just a few of the characters in this fantastic collection. There are so many others including John and Diana, Harold and Carol, Camille and her young daughter, Cheryl and Roger, Suzanne and Brian, Helen and Gene, Lori and Mitch, plus several of these couples’ teenage children. There are secrets and betrayals in this small suburban town. The residents have a knack for getting in trouble. I highly recommend this collection.
Profile Image for Jacqueline Masumian.
Author 2 books31 followers
September 9, 2016
I enjoyed this set of linked short stories about life in an affluent suburb of New York City. The stories present the hidden disappointments, obsessions, and insecurities that lurk amidst the tranquil tree-lined facade of a small upscale community known as Old Cranbury.

Lauren Acampora's writing is lyrical and precise as she explores the recesses of her characters' hearts and minds. Several of the characters appear in one or more other stories, revealing the different faces they present in different situations, but also creating the sense of an interlaced community of people, each trying to come to terms with their place in the family, the neighborhood, the planet.

My favorite story in the collection is "Moon Roof" in which a woman on her way home from an errand is at a stop sign wanting to turn left. At first the traffic prevents her from turning, but gradually she realizes she cannot take her foot from the brake; she finds herself frozen, unable to advance to her home or the party she had expected to attend. She comes to realize, as she sits for hours at the stop sign, how marginalized she feels by her husband and sons and how much she would like to escape her future.

These sorts of mental meanderings make this book delightful to read and in fact invite a second reading.
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