48 pp. Damnation Books. $6.99
Pub. Date: 9/1/2009
Worms. They’re completely overlooked, the Ann B. Davis of the insect world; their brilliance criminally underappreciated. Slimy, wiggly, sometimes parasitic; they’re seemingly a writer’s dream. (Just don’t mention your worm dreams to Freud.) Yet they get passed over, ignored, for the glamour bugs, the sexy bugs, the va-va-voom bugs like spiders and bees; bugs a author can turn out, putting them in high heels, cherry-red lipstick and a push-up bra, before sending them out on the streets to collect wolf-whistles like a five year old stockpiles Legos.
But worms aren’t sexy, they’re plain meets Jane. Maybe it’s because they don’t have a face. Hard to compliment something without a face, makes eye contact difficult. And complimenting them on nice ganglia isn’t going to induce a swoon and win you Lothario points. No worm has ever fallen into someone’s arms, flush with excitement, batting their photoreceptors, while whispering, Oh, you silver-tongued devil.
So who really thinks about worms? Maybe five year olds, the ones troweling up dirt, practicing the long-forgotten art of making mud pies, daring each other to snort an earthworm for that Annelida high. And zoologists who study invertebrates. After that it’s slim pickings on the Jenny Craig diet. Worms just aren’t something people think about. Even though they are everywhere, in everything. Microscopic critters living in our food, our bodies, as well as our world.
James Dorr thinks about worms, though. Thinks enough about these underappreciated invertebrates to put them in The Garden. Didn’t think about worms before? You will after reading this clever novella; in fact, it’ll be hard to get them out afterwards. They’ll burrow into your mind, leaving an indelible mark on your consciousness. And that’s what good horror does, it leaves scar tissue. It leaves you trembling in the wake of a worm, badly dubbed English streaming out of your mouth.
While hiking the Hoosac mountains, graduate student Steven Kerridge stumbles across a wondrous farm that has the most amazing garden he’s ever seen. This bountiful garden is even more incredible because the surrounding land is blighted and infested with weeds, making the farm a surprising oasis in the region. The farm is tended by Alma Sharp, a reclusive young woman who has lived there alone since the death of her parents.
Intrigued by the garden and the scholarly materials left behind by
Despite some passages of exposition which clunk like an angry bear in a Williams-Sonoma store, The Garden works. Works because it has an idea so big, Plato would be impressed (and by extension Socrates would be too); it’s an idea so good, it can’t be screwed up. Even with a pack of stupidity screwdrivers or the drill motor of dumb-assed-ness. (Thankfully, Dorr has neither of these.) The biochemistry in the novella is absolutely fascinating, filled with cool tidbits that’ll have you silently mouthing Wow!, immensely satisfying your inner science geek. This is fun science; it’s even more fun than that one time in lab where the kid you hated burned a swatch of hair off his knuckles.
But the best part is the ending. And it’s not because the book ended before my eyes bled out. No, the ending is fantastic, wildly unpredictable and truly stunning. When I can’t see the ending coming at all, that’s a good ending. (Unless, of course, the resolution is either incredibly odd or mind-numbingly stupid. That’s not stunning; that’s just odd or stupid.)
Oddly, the payoff in The Garden is infinitely better than the setup; the ending really makes it. Everything else is solid, if unspectacular. Steven and Alma are decent characters, just not memorable. Overall, The Garden is a mixed bag; it’s a solid story leading up to an unforgettable conclusion.
Final Grade: 70 out of 100