The Mother Garden

Robin Romm

Elissa was returning this at the library and told me I should read it, so I checked it out. This collection could be subtitled something like”variations on grief,” as all of them involve a core theme of loss, whether imminent or realized. Most of the deaths involve sickness, especially cancer, mostly parents. Somehow they all capture something a little different.

Some parts hit on somehow-still-tender spots for me, as when Mateo says in”The Beads,” “Maybe it’s too hard … Maybe I just can’t take it.” There are enough quirky, fantastic moments that keep the stories from becoming maudlin. Romm also has an awareness about focusing on death as a writer, acknowledged through the story “No Small Feat,” where a struggling writer discovers her boyfriend has published a story based around her own mother’s death.

One editor suggested I wait until I was in the next phase of my life before sending another story. It got so obnoxious that I stopped sending the stories out. No one wants to hear about mortality, I figured … I don’t have a patent on death. I wouldn’t want one. Really, he can have the subject — the whole big feat of it. I’d love to write stories about surfing teenagers, international spies, funny grandmothers, dogs that fly. But death is my map, the thing I’ve been living next to for years.

Overall, these stories have just the right balance of hard and magical realism, highlighting the way different ways that people resist letting go, like the character photographed gripping her mother’s nightgown and thinking, Don’t die.