by Tanya Eby
Some book reviews are easy to write and I bang them out quickly. I read the book, the plot was (good or bad), the characters (were, were not) fully developed, I (do or do not) recommend the book…..
And then there are the rare books like “In the Garden Room” by Tanya Eby which punch you in the gut and leave you stunned. These are the books which you don’t stop thinking about after the cover is closed for the final time. The one which makes you feel so many feels, that processing and being able to adequately express an opinion is nearly impossible.
I confess to being an Eby superfan, but as a narrator. When she is associated with an Audible book, I don’t hesitate to add it to my library. I was unaware she was also an author and was both excited and a little jealous to find this out. How can one person have such a variety of talent? I started Garden Room much the same way as I do most books nowadays, with absolutely no clue the subject matter. This has proven to be a wonderful way in which to find treasure I might otherwise have not chosen had I known ahead of time what the story explored. That said, if you are reading a review prior to reading the book, I assume you are actually looking for guidance or opinion on it. This one is tough. It’s not a book about rainbows and unicorns, and the subject matter could be a trigger for some women.
The story centers around two women in the early 1900s. We meet mother, Cora, and daughter, Lillian when the women lived a boring, but safe life. Having married a fisherman with dreams of creating a good life, but reeking of the stench of fish, almost 30 year old Lillian sees her future only as doom and gloom. She was unhappy, never content and easily swayed by the charms of a vagabond who ends up being a talent scout for a Chicago brothel.
And the ladies lives go downhill from there…..Lillian creates a fantasy life in her head and sneaks away with her young daughter while her husband is away working. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess what is coming. In the early 20th century, a 30 year old woman was OLD, but her very innocent young daughter was a great commodity. As I said, this subject matter might be difficult, but Eby presents it so smartly, that as a reader I was drawn into the story despite the un-comfortableness of it all.
I listened to this book via Audible and must give kudos to the narrator, Christa Lewis. She had me believing in the spoiled Cora, the defeated Cora, the regretful Cora as well as the unfortunate personality changes of naive Lillian to warrior Lillian. There is one scene in the book detailing the inauguration of this child into the dreadful world of brothel life which literally caused me tears. Lewis WAS that young girl. Between the words Eby penned, and the voice Lewis spoke, that was one of the hardest paragraphs I ever heard on an Audible book. It was not gratuitous. and was completely essential to the character development, but it was hard to hear.
This was also one of those audio books where you found yourself wishing you had pen and paper to jot down some of the lines because they were so impactful. This one especially summed up the idea behind life as a woman:
So much of a woman’s happiness depends on what type of a cage she was kept in.
I’m glad I listened to this book and would not hesitate to try another Eby novel or listen to more of Lewis’ narration.
For the US State reading challenge – this one is set in Illinois.