I generally avoid short stories, but Lauren Acampora’s The Wonder Garden offers a compelling collection of connected stories featuring the inhabitants of a Old Cranbury, a small Connecticut town with historical pretensions. Old Cranbury’s citizens take themselves pretty seriously, but frequently come across as silly and obtuse. To round things out, some characters reveal odd anarchic tendencies, while other characters are just plain cruel. For all the apparent homogeneity and small town congeniality, there is a lot going on here. Generally The Wonder Garden is more humorous and insightful than tragic, but whatever Acampora’s take on her characters, this is an entertaining book that provides a deft take on certain mainstay characters of small town life.
It is almost as if Acampora has gotten behind the scenes and dug up the dirt on some of the stock characters featured in Hollywood movies about small town life. (Frank Capra would have loved this.) Happily, The Wonder Garden also bears some similarities to EE Benson’s Lucia series (see Queen Lucia, etc.), which is set in a small English town, although The Wonder Garden offers a more twisted and sobering view of small town life, than Lucia‘s sillier madcap approach. Since these are short stories, very little gets resolves — just like life in a small town where the same people keep interacting again and again.
So, I recommend this book.