This review is probably biased. I’ve been a fan of Rickert’s writing for almost a decade. As far as I know, I’ve read her entire published oeuvre, and have gone on record talking about how much I love it. I even had the pleasure of telling her face to face a few weeks ago!
A lot of Rickert’s shorter work is often populated by the walking wounded. Characters who are often terribly aware of whatever darkness (some kind of guilt, trauma, tragedy, maybe some secret) pervades their lives. It often isolates them, as those who might share that grief–well-meaning lovers, family, community–move on. And while sometimes (not every time) I’m left with a sense of a character’s transformation, of some tiny newfound strength or hope in the future, I would fear what tomorrow could bring them.
The difference in Rickert’s debut novel The Memory Garden, is that Nan and her friends Mavis and Ruthie made it through to the other side of their darkness. They lived past a shared tragedy some sixty years into old age. Not unscathed, of course. The damage to their lives is done, and they drift apart. But one way or the other and with varying degrees of success, they each soldiered on to eventually move into and through their own individual guilts and traumas–and occasional blessings, too. Nan was given the care of Bay, an unexpected, maybe even undeserved miracle. And Nan chooses to raise Bay, even if it meant doing so in the shadows of everything that came before. Even if it meant more secrets.
It’s the sort of situation one falls into once life becomes about more than survival.
The Memory Garden‘s peculiar cast of characters gathered under even more peculiar circumstances shows us what any of Rickert’s short story characters’ lives might be like sixty years after a given tale, about a time when the past will, despite whatever life you might have lived in the interim and whatever you’ve done to put distance between you and it, demand to be reckoned with. And this is, at least as far as my memory of Rickert’s other work goes, fresh ground.