I didn't get a damn thing done today. I picked up THE CRAZY GARDEN sometime between getting the baby down for a nap and my intent to fix a turkey sandwich. Wound up skipping lunch and never put down the book. What an engrossing story. Only a great writer could take something as maddening as a family jaunt through the tourist traps of Vienna and make it compelling and true.
The characters are typically American, at once complex and archetypal. Every member of the family seems reined into orbit around the mother like trained horses. Poor 16 year old Sophy! To be so miserable that strangers seek out schemes to help you escape your self-obsessed, schedule controlling mother. There is a comic relief to her mother's hyperbolic manipulation, her ignorant mispronunciations and her misplaced elitism. I love the way Sophy's father's passive resignation forewarns us to Sophy's own withering at the hands of her mother's disregard.
Great line: "She had always, rather confusedly, associated truth with freedom...More and more, truth felt like a set of walls around her, pressing in close." E.A. Bagby offers a truthful story, as a young woman discovers her own conflicted desires and the complexities of her place in this world. The hardest lesson we learn may very well be that truth has consequence. It's not a simple central theme, and Bagby does Sophy justice by it.