This extraordinarily polished and sophisticated story collection investigates the unaccountable ways in which literature and life entwine. In “Three Seaside Tales” a woman at a resort imagines herself in a Chekhov story only to succumb to banal everydayness, and in “Island Time” a young bride inexorably merges with Emma Bovary.
Brennan’s fictions position their readers at the edge of the known world, opening onto vistas of both erotic promise and ghastly beauty. The voices, youthful and aging, maniacal and restrained, represent our world’s lost, scattering their words among surrealistic ruins, as though come to inhabit their own dreams. The lovely protagonist of “Saw” inexplicably maims herself with a chainsaw, literalizing in this violent impulse the self-destructive passion of all of Brennan’s characters to actualize romance.
These characters lead the reader through a charged, personal landscape of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic complexity. The voices encountered in Brennan’s garden will continue to whisper long after the book has been closed.
Karen Brennan's haunting, provocative stories remind me of the very best of Alice Munro, Doris Lessing, Angela Carter, and Kafka....Karen Brennan's fourteen stories are all, in fact, disturbing but necessary epiphanies for our post-modern lives, revelations filled with scathing poignancy and perceptive melancholy, the kind of dark, ineffable melancholy you encounter in the late poetry of Coleridge or in Keats' late poem "To Autumn."—New Pages
"Some of these stories assemble deliberately dissimilar elements together and play off the comedy implicit in serious absurdities. Other stories are more conventional in their conception although Brennan is neither trite nor obvious. Her stories are in the class of clever fireworks but, since cleverness is by itself not enough, she puts it to good use. Her constant question is where do men and women go when they have reached the end. The answer may be bleak but there is no doubt about the seriousness of the quest or the authority with which the writer describes it. This is a book that you will want and that you will find rewarding to read and reread." —The Compulsive Reader
"The garden of stories found in Karen Brennan's masterful collection The Garden in Which I Walk is plated like a crazed French topiary of dreams. The forms are all expressionistic edges, fragments and fractures, adhering to the contours of wonder and desire. There are angels in the angles and the topography breaks into the English country park paradox of landscapes—so groomed, so artificia—as to be more natural than nature. This book is a human-made Eden of poetic posed and poised prose." —Michael Martone
"The stories in The Garden in Which I Walk are ten triumphs in a single volume. Karen Brennan's jazz-infused fiction demoniacally crashes us into our delusions, our states of despairing satiation and of happy hungering. No writer since Angela Carter has brought readers such blasphemous, ribald visions of divine justice." —Kevin McIlvoy, author of Hyssop and The Complete History of New Mexico
The garden in which I walk is in the shadow of the forty story Church office building. There are peonies, white, pink, mauve. There are delphiniums, daisies, bamboo grass, chicken-and-egg, coleus of all colors, forget-me-nots, tiny violas with yellow centers. There are sprinklers which mist even the concrete. There is brownish concrete when wet, otherwise grey. There is a fountain where water shoots out like a waterfall into an enormous granite bowl. There is a statue of a handsome religious leader holding hands with and looking into the eyes of his dear wife. There are accompanying bronzes of children dancing in a circle, very joyous. There is a slight breeze. There is a man pushing his bicycle along, pushing it along gravely, but seemingly without destination. There are sprinklers which mist even the man's bicycle as he traverses the narrow walkways. There is a sharp squeaky sound coming from a nearby traffic light which reminds me of a car burglar alarm. There are no burglars. There are no people coming into or going out of the forty storey office building (it's Sunday). There's me walking along in my new black shoes (avoiding therefore the misting sprinklers) and my black hat. There is the man and his bicycle who is now going in the opposite direction from the first direction in which he had been headed. There are no bugs discernible to the naked eyeball, there is a bigger breeze, there is the black hat tilted, blown askew by the breeze which has now the force of a wind. There are fat mounds of dirt beneath each clump of flowers. There are no weeds, no errant plant growths, no unruly ant hills marring these dirt mounds. There are mountains in the distance which have jagged peaks like the mountains of Switzerland. There is snow on some of the mountains even though it is August. There is a moderate amount of religious fervor in the air. There are cars speeding by which are visible over the ridge of the waterfall-like fountain. There are minuscule chips of stone embedded in the concrete over which the fountain water flows. There is a shadow on the garden from the office building, an actual shadow from the forty storey office building, and a figurative shadow, call it historical. There is a man who is now pausing with his bicycle, staring idly at the Lady Banks roses. There is a certain kind of comfort being offered here, that is to say a certain precious snug claustrophobic kind of comfort that invites you to surrender everything in return for a nice vanilla cream pie. There are no pies. There is instead a profusion of flowers everywhere in this garden in their perfectly manicured, well-maintained beds, growing as per arrangement, according to plan with no weeds. There is everywhere the grim overhang of the office building, but then there is also the sky which is a pale cloudless blue, and the breeze which accelerated into wind and now is stronger wind, and the mountains with their little jagged frozen snow caps. There is me running after my hat, which is dipping and soaring with a mind of its own into the fountain bowl where it fills with water and sinks. There is the bicycle man alerted by the clomp-clomp of my shoes on the pavement and veering his bicycle toward where I am running after my hat. There I am sitting by the side of the fountain, my arm submerged to the elbow trying for the hat and swearing loudly with no fear of offending anyone, having momentarily forgotten about the man with the bicycle who is now unmistakably moving toward me, pushing his bicycle which has a creaky wheel. There is the wind dying down. There is a penny in a crack between blocks of grey aggregate. There is me gazing intently at the penny because there is the man heading toward me, coming closer. There is the man offering to retrieve my hat. There is the man with his arm submerged to the elbow in fountain water. There is a moustache on the man, speckled with white at the very ends as if he had been drinking milk. There is a blemish on the man's cheek and some freckles scattered over his nose, only densely, so not quite scattered but gathered over his nose, which is to say on his nose which is bulbous at the ends and has medium-sized nostrils. There is the man's speaking voice which has a slight nasal quality, though not unpleasant, a slight under-toning of soprano, perhaps, and some bit, not at all consequential, of shyness or reticence in his offer to "fetch the cap." There is a kind of old world courtliness about the man which is evident not only in his diction but in his eyes which lower modestly away from my rather blunt gaze into them, blunt because of the wish to assess the man's motivations, whether he is normal or up to something unforeseeable, a glint of which I hope to catch in his eyes which lower and avert. There he is taking a long piece of string from the pocket of his dark trousers and tying the end of the string to the v of a twig he snaps from a very small acacia tree growing in the middle of one of the flower beds. There he is dipping the string with the twig end down into the fountain and now scraping my hat which has the look of bobbing eggplant along the bottom of the fountain bowl which is frothy with bubbling waters. There is me looking at his eyes again just for that brief second that they meet mine before looking quickly down to his task with the stick and string, and finding in those eyes nothing noteworthy to report, only that the pupils don't waver in size, which I find only slightly disconcerting , and the eyes themselves hold no expression whatsoever, I may as well be looking into x's. There is now a memory creeping into my mind, just a little hint of something, an image of someone with the same eyes from a horror film choking a woman, first the eyes are what I recall and then the thumbs on the woman's neck which are also very distinctive. There is the man now reaching into the fountain once more and this time coming up with my new hat which is of course sodden and unwearable , looking more like a dead animal- a rat or a fish- than a once perky, beloved hat. There are the man's thumbs which are similar in shape to the one's of the horror film murderer and there is the man smiling very broadly at me as he holds forth the hat, very proud is his smile and there is a tooth missing, a bicuspid. There is also a tear on the man's plaid shirt right over his heart and triangular so that I can see a section of his nipple, which is very almost shockingly pink, like a woman's. There I am wringing out my hat in the fountain and thanking the man for his trouble, careful now not to make eye contact, but just intent on the wringing motion, which is the motion of my two fists going in opposite directions. There is the man sitting on the edge of the fountain and watching me wring out my hat, making no attempt to leave on his bicycle and also the sky is turning a violet color right over the tops of the mountains and the breeze which was at first slight, then heavy, then slight again, is at this point picking up so that the man's bicycle jiggles precariously on its kick-stand and then topples over making a crashing sound which startles me more than I might have predicted. There is the man righting the bicycle and, at the same time, there I am mumbling goodbye to the man and thanks again, feeling a little squeamish now and not grateful enough, therefore feeling also guilty but squeamish nonetheless. There is a creeping feeling across the back of my neck and there is my heart pounding and there is the sky turning navy blue. There are flowers which are now dark clumps in their shallow concrete beds, as are the dark silhouetted shapes of the religious leader and his wife who are so fondly depicted here, along with the joyous dancing-in-a-circle, ring-around-the-rosy children from another century, looking and feeling so peaceful and safe, peaceful because of safe, in that order, among the gardens of their youths, which is to say the gardens of all of our youths, so filled as they were with happiness and innocence. There I am walking among all this beauty and kindness and benevolence while behind me there is the unmistakable sound of someone taking measured steps so as neither to pass nor lag, also the sound of a creaky wheel, a kind of rolling along sound with a little glitch in it, and a clinking chain which is very rhythmic and to my mind portentous. There I am walking alone toward the stone staircase which will take me out of the garden into the real world of traffic and darkness, where the dark I see from here over the top of the stairs is solid but nevertheless lit by the various moving and wavering car headlights and the more stationary and reliable streetlights and the occasional flashlight shone into the all but impenetrable night by someone who intends to either light our way or blind us.
The Garden in Which I Walk
The Garden in Which I Walk