Excerpt from The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Wonder Garden

by Lauren Acampora

The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora X
The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora
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  • First Published:
    May 2015, 368 pages
    Feb 2016, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Print Excerpt

The Umbrella Bird

It had been a touch of incredible fortune to find David one spring night at a dive on Houston Street. He'd been attending a coworker's farewell gathering, an anomalous outing for him. He was short-haired and clean against the peeling paint and graffiti. That he'd been there that night nursing a Stella Artois, and had needed the restroom at the same time as she, had upended statistical logic. He was taller than everyone, and thinner, as if streamlined for air travel. Not conventionally handsome, but with a narrow, austere face. His green irises seemed lit, like dappled leaves on a forest floor. When he looked at Madeleine, she was briefly paralyzed, a field mouse in a clearing. He bought her a vodka tonic and left a three-dollar tip for the bartender. As he handed the glass to her, turning the tiny straw in her direction, she'd felt the dizzy euphoria of a traveler who has turned onto the right road, the easy expansion of lungs as the horizon opens before her.

He was an account supervisor at a big advertising firm in midtown, he explained breezily, coordinating campaigns for sneakers and tortilla chips. But later, over a series of ardent dinner dates, she learned that he'd grown up in the country—on a farm, no less—and had never felt truly at peace in an apartment building. Lately he felt that he was being gradually drawn back to Nature, and now that he'd found her, he suggested with elaborate, softforested eyes, perhaps his quest was complete. Within six months, they were married and looking at real estate listings.


The house has been sweepingly renovated, the front door framed by columns and topped by a counterfeit balcony. It's what the real estate agent had termed a center-hall colonial, with the kind of timeless architecture and rigorous symmetry designed to leverage a calming effect on its inhabitants. Paired with precise, harmonious details, she implied, a house like this had the power to transform its owners' experience of the world, to render any obstacle—any boiler failure or termite siege—surmountable.

Nearly all their money has gone to the down payment, and with the little that remains, Madeleine is scrambling to furnish. With a Sharpie, she circles furniture in soft-lit catalogs: a sectional sofa, a leather armchair, a mirrored console table. Deliverymen put them in place. Still, the rooms echo.

Alone, she wanders the house on the balls of her feet. It is preternaturally quiet, the walls themselves thick with insulation, sealing out the buzz of the world. A sliding glass door displays a wide lawn tumbling to a thumb-smudge of trees. She has reached it at last: this asylum, this glorious valve. Madeleine had first glimpsed this kind of life as a girl, visiting a friend who'd moved to a verdant nook of New Jersey. Entering that house had been like entering a palace: the soaring entrance hall, floors that didn't sag toward the middle, bay windows looking onto wanton grass and trees, the great yawn of sky. There, she'd learned to ride a bicycle. Pedaling back and forth on that wide blacktop driveway, she'd felt the first ecstasy of flight.

She has never lived anywhere but in a gerbil cage. She has never had money. Her father was a bag-eyed jazz musician— dead in middle age—her mother a schoolteacher who supported them all. Madeleine had diligently sidestepped adulthood in her parents' lopsided brownstone on Charles Street, among the aging socialists and drag queens. Before meeting David, she had acquired the habits of every cynical city girl: shutting down dirty bars, flattering scrawny musicians, waking Sundays on ripped Naugahyde couches.

Tonight, he is out in the woods, building a tree house for their daughter who is due in a month. Although she will not use it for years, he has thrown himself into the project as if on a deadline. Each evening, when he comes home from work, he puts on old jeans, disappears into the garage, and cuts lumber with a power saw. Madeleine has agreed not to visit the tree house until it is finished. She watches David carry wooden planks over the grass to the woods, the late-summer sun casting his long shadow before him. His hands have become splintered and raw, his forearms welted from the ash tree he has selected.

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Excerpted from The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora. Copyright © 2015 by Lauren Acampora. Excerpted by permission of Grove Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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