Young Woman in a Garden by Delia Sherman
Small Beer Press, 2014; 312 pp
Reviewed by Juliana Amir
Delia Sherman crafted her collection of fourteen short stories over a span of twenty-five years. It pains me to admit the beginning of Young Woman in a Garden was so humdrum I was uncertain if I would even finish, that is, until I realized the genius of Sherman’s technique. She takes mediocre moments, such as writing a letter of intent or meeting a new neighbor, and then garnishes them with magic so no matter how small an event may seem, it is significant.
This isn’t a thrilling, page-turner, nor is it supposed to be. Each chapter can be read in one sitting and each story takes you everywhere from a dead artist’s studio to a French bordello. The collection is connected by supernatural elements, which are more potent in some stories like the Red Piano, whilst subtle in others. Though the stories themselves aren’t necessarily suspenseful I found myself captivated, waiting to see how Sherman would employ this sense of enchantment.
In the Red Piano, Arantxa Waters is a levelheaded professor. Listening to her neighbor play, she reflects: “My host’s music delved into the unplumbed depths of my psyche and brought up strange jewels. The nut-sweet sherry blended with salt tears as I wept unashamedly, drunk on music…” A lovely description, but as Arantxa loses all sensibility the story quickly plunges into a more haunted realm.
Most of Sherman’s characters shine though they are not all created equal. Protagonists such as the pink-eyed darling of the bayou, who can dance all night and day, leave a lasting impression while others fade into a fog by the novel’s end. Readers who appreciate inventive tales and reminders that magic thrives where you least suspect should not hesitate to embark on Delia Sherman’s multilayered collection.