Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Garden Party by Grace Dane Mazur #literarysatirefiction

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

Recently, a new book store opened up in my area—always a cause for celebration. They’re a discount seller, so they don’t have a huge selection per genre, but what they do have is very affordably priced and they have a nice variety. On my first visit, I picked up several novels in hardback, including The Garden Party. I seem to be hitting on a lot of unusual reads this year, and this one certainly qualifies!

BOOK BLURB:

A rehearsal dinner brings together two disparate families in a sparkling social satire set over the course of a single day.

This enchanting novel takes place in Brookline, Massachusetts, where dinner in the garden is bringing together two families on the night before the wedding that should unite them. The families are not unfriendly but they are shy and leery of each other. The Barlows are a Wall Street Journal-reading family of lawyers steeped in trusts and copyrights, corporations and war crimes, golf and tennis. The Cohens are wildly impractical intellectuals, including a biologist who has studied why scorpions glow in the dark; a social activist who always needs rescuing; and a historian of the cooking of ancient Babylonian who is trying, while hosting the dinner party, to figure out whether Time is really shaped like baklava.

The novel begins with the Cohens brewing morning coffee and considering the work they will have to do to prepare their house and gardens for the dinner, and it ends, late that very night, after a complicated series of fiascoes and miracles. Over the course of the day, it becomes clear that neither family is more eccentric than the other.

Featuring an ensemble cast of exceptionally vivid characters ranging in age from three to the early nineties, Grace Dane Mazur’s wonderfully lyrical novel is an irresistible portrayal of miscommunication, secrets, and the power of love.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I initially picked up this book because I was drawn by the gorgeous cover. Once I read the blurb, I was hooked and ready to crack the cover. I loved the idea of the story playing out over a summer evening with so many differing characters as players. Therein lies the charm and the problem. There are twenty-four people at the garden party, plus a cook and a butler. The author manages to juggle all of these personalities with skill. But although we get glimpses beneath the surface of each, the reader never experiences a deeper connection. Some appear as nothing more than sketches. Each, however—including the children—have a quirk or two that makes for a gathering of eccentrics.

Written in omniscient point-of-view, the book is divided into sections (Arrivals, Drinks, Dinner in the Garden, etc), rather than chapters. I was halfway through the second part before taking note of the structure as the story sucked me under from page one. It’s not a long book, just over 200 pages. Most of the scenes move rapidly but others are dense. I found much of the writing exquisite, appreciating the lyricism of descriptions and unique turns of phrase. Note this example:

Pindar had always felt that there was something fleeting about his daughter, even at twenty-four, as though she were a delicate contraption made of feathers and rubber bands and sails.

And this:

The stairs in the front hall creak as oaken floorboards talk to nails. Walls shift as the day’s warmth rushes out and coolness from the garden flows in to take its place. Couches exhale. In the attic, objects made of suede and velvet stir.

I finished the book in two days, finding myself reluctant to set it aside when other matters called. Were it not for the closing section/chapter this would be a five-star read for me. But all the build-up, all the shuffling of players and personalities, lives knitted together, and others undone toppled into “WTH?” in the final section. I’m not sure why the author chose to end the book as she did. Without a doubt this is a novel to generate book club discussions. I’m not sorry I spent time with the story, only sorry the ending fell flat.

64 thoughts on “Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Garden Party by Grace Dane Mazur #literarysatirefiction

  1. Sounds like an interesting story; seems very wacky and hysterical with family dynamics—which are always a treat to see whether in books or on television.

    I can see why you’d rate this three stars, especially since character development and character exploration is important. I admit, over twenty characters in a story is a lot even for an author to keep track of with their own part to play.

    Love the review, Mae. It’s very well-written, concise, and immersing. I think I’ll check this book out sometime. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Lucy. Thanks for visiting to check out the review. I’m surprised the author was able to juggle the characters as well as she did given how many there were. Even with just scratching the surface of each, there was something mesmerizing about the book. Were it not for the ending, I would have rated it differently.

      Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed my review. If you do end up reading the book, I’ll be interested to learn what you think of it. Have an awesome day!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can totally understand how the cover grabbed you. It’s beautiful. Does your new book story only sell new books or new and used? How exciting! We only have a Barnes and it’s at least 45 minutes away. I miss having a variety of book stores. ❤️ Excellent review, Mae.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The language of the book really made up for it. Strange that it wasn’t even so much the story that hooked me (not a lot of character development), but the prose was just so immersive, I couldn’t tear myself away.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It was such a disappointing ending, Harmony. It really left me scratching my head, but I don’t regret reading the book. Despite a lack of character development, the writing was so exquisite, it made me overlook a lot of flaws.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s such an unusual book, Joan. I loved the eccentric nature of the characters. Most were highly memorable despite the author never really digging into their individual stories. That happened with a few, but most came across as sketches.

      The writing, however, was exquisite. If not for the ending, this would be high on my top reads of the year list!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mae, this sounds like an interesting read. I would absolutely love to meet those Cohens! The samples of the writing that you quoted are beautiful and the premise is fascinating. I was sorry to hear the ending was disappointing! It sounds like it would be worth reading just to savor the writing, though. Thanks for another detailed and honest review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The writing is what made the book for me, Maura Beth. That, and the eccentric nature of the characters. It was such a strange read. Maybe I’m just not used to “literary satire.” It was definitely out of my usual reading realm, but I don’t regret spending time with the characters (despite the blah ending). The writing was exquisite!

      Like

    • Tessa, if you end up reading this I would love to see what you think of the ending. Despite a lack of character development, I was still held captive by the those characters given more than just a surface gloss.And EVERYONE fit the eccentric bill in one way or another (right down to the children). I’ve never read literary satire before, so maybe that’s why I didn’t appreciate the ending. I just know the book went off the rails for me with the last section.

      But the writing was exquisite. For that reason alone, I could see myself reading sections of this again (probably right up until the conclusion, LOL)!

      I forgot to mention…the menu planning with what the Barlows can and can’t eat was pretty tongue-in-cheek hysterical!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ooh, I hate when that happens, Mae. It makes me feel cheated. A few years ago, I read this thriller by a celebrity author. Interesting protagonist, excellent premise. BUT the killer was never mentioned until the protagonist solved the case. I was like, WTF? Who is this guy? Why have I never heard of him till now? Actually, the book still pisses me off. LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds like a book that would tick me off too, Sue. When you stick with a book you have expectations about how certain things should play out—like being exposed to the killer in some manner before the case is solved.

      The Garden Party was a good read (hence 3 stars) but it could have been a great read with a different ending. Still pisses me off, LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonderful review. The snippets do make me want to read it. I had the fall-flat ending experience with a popular thriller author. I still hold it against him, even has he has published another wonderful book with no ending problems. Those closures stick with you, don’t they?

    Liked by 1 person

    • They definitely stick with you, Jacqui, especially after investing time. I’ve read books that didn’t end well, or had an open ending and was still okay with them. My favorite read this year (Leave the World Behind) had a thoroughly open ending that many readers hated. I loved the book.

      In this case, the author delivered an ending, but it left me feeling cheated.
      That aside, the writing is so good, I can’t help but recommend The Garden Party. If you want something thoroughly different, it fits the bill!

      Like

  6. The distinct characters and their interests and vocations were so compelling, Mae. I can see why your picked it up. Such a shame that the ending didn’t work after a great story. And a beautiful cover. Thanks for sharing your review. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think, for many of us bloggers, a local discount bookstore opening up would be cause for celebration. Maybe not for our husbands when they discover we are single-handedly keeping the store in biz, and we ask him to build us a new bookshelf, or several. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hate flat endings, John. Even though this one could be a poster child for that, I still enjoyed 3/4 of the book. It was so odd, and the writing opulent, for lack of a better word. Sometimes you just have to scratch your head and wonder why an author chooses to wrap a story the way they do.
      Thanks for visiting today!

      Like

    • With the new bookstore, I’m fortunate to now have two within a short driving distance, Jacquie. I love it!
      The Garden Party was definitely different than anything I’ve read previously. I wish the ending had lived up to the enchantment of the cover!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Like you, I was drawn in by the cover, the description, the eccentric characters and your review – and I wondered why only 3 stars. Then when I read why, I felt kind of cheated – like you probably felt when reading the ending. But like Tessa, now I’m curious to know what happened, lol.

    Like

    • Yep, It was that darn ending, Teri. I can overlook that there were a lot of under developed characters, because several others made up for that. But the ending? It still frustrates me!!

      Like

    • I loved the concept of the whole book, Noelle. In fact, I was so intrigued, I picked up a copy for a friend. That was before I read it, LOL.
      If not for that ridiculous ending, I could have been happy!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The word building and imagery is incredible, Mae. Even the line in the blurb, “to figure out whether Time is really shaped like baklava,” caught my attention. It’s unfortunate that the ending was less than you’d hoped for. Great review and thanks for sharing, Mae. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • The whole section on time was very different, Mark. I’ve never encountered anything like it in a novel before. I can’t say it enamored me, but many other parts of the book did There was so much about this book to draw a reader in. And then…that ending ;(
      Even knowing that, I still recommend it as an unusual read, one guaranteed to generate discussion.
      Thanks for visiting!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This is such a great example of how important beginnings and endings are to readers. This sounds like a complex book with so many characters. And I love the short excerpts you shared. Too bad it fell flat in the end, leaving you feeling less than satisfied. Thank you for sharing, Mae!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wish the ending had lived up to the rest of the book, Jan. It would have made all the difference for me and probably ranked as one of my top reads of the year (despite the lack of character development for many of those at the dinner). I’ve read books with questionable or open endings before, but this one was neither. It just didn’t fit the story!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. This sounds like an interesting story! It makes me wonder what was in the author’s mind regarding the final chapter. I see that there weren’t chapters so much as sections of the night. Hopefully the final section wasn’t everyone simply leaving the party. Intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I was curious about this initially but, wow, twenty four-plus people? That sounds like way too much going on to really have much of a story..
    Great review! Thank you for sharing it!

    Like

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