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THE GARDEN by Clare Beams Kirkus Star


by Clare Beams

Pub Date: April 9th, 2024
ISBN: 9780385548182
Publisher: Doubleday

In 1948 Massachusetts, a young wife enters a mysterious residential program to help her carry a pregnancy to term.

Having suffered five miscarriages, Irene Willard arrives at an estate in the Berkshires that serves as a treatment facility for pregnant women with similar histories. High-spirited and impetuous, Irene isn’t thrilled to be so tightly monitored by the married doctors who run the program, but Irene’s husband, shaken by his wartime service, desperately wants children. Because of him, Irene endures calisthenics and communal gardening, hormone shots and psychotherapy. Most acutely, she endures Dr. Bishop, the woman who spearheads the program with steely ambition. When Irene discovers an untended walled garden on the back of the property, she realizes it may be the source of the house’s unsettling atmosphere, with ramifications for both Irene and Dr. Bishop that are beyond either of their comprehensions. In many ways, this novel is sister to Beams’ debut novel, The Illness Lesson (2020); both feature a women-centered community, dubious health treatments, and animal omens. But here Beams leans into horror influences—The Haunting of Hill House, Rosemary’s Baby, plant horror, even Stephen King—and into the tropes of the maternal gothic. (“She’d had no idea love could swirl with horror this way,” Beams writes of Irene.) While many authors have explored the way the pregnant body is a haunted body, Beams’ writing sets her apart, shimmering against the dark subject matter. She also navigates a minefield, as Irene’s treatment is based on a synthetic hormone used in the 1940s that caused both birth defects and health risks for the mother; where a lesser writer might have fallen back on ableist tropes of “monstrous” children, Beams treats her subject with a careful moral imagination.

Like an overgrown garden—untamable, lush, and wild in ways lovely and terrifying.