From Lisle (Without Child, 1996, etc.), an intimate immersion, with buoyant ups and strong downs, into life at an old house in northwestern Connecticut, not incidentally including its garden.
Some years back, when Lisle’s marriage was going south and she was toiling away on a book about Louise Nevelson, she moved to the town of Sharon, Conn., up in the state’s bosky northwest. She wanted a little house in town, with a flood of sunlight and a writing room (she also got two inches of water in the basement), not some great manse of rolling hills and meadows. Small, yes, but there was still that near-half acre out back. In a voice both lucent and touched with melancholy, she tells of the plot’s many transformations: tentative gropings; unearthing memories of working in a garden with her mother; her wishing not to domesticate the land (she enjoys the willfulness of plants), but her hoping to find some serviceable balance between nature and nurture; waiting for nature to deal her a wild card in the form of rude weather or hungry deer, either capable of ruining her garden in a night. Lisle’s is also the story of coming to live in a place as a total stranger and of joining the community, its political committees, garden clubs, and ambulance corps: “Compared to the Hamptons, the wall between natives and newcomers did not seem high,” she says, though her house would always be known as the Mow House—from an early tenant—and never as the Lisle place. It’s the garden, though, that keeps drawing her back, away from her work, even away from her lovers. In it, she feels—and conveys—a genuine pulse of pleasure in the rituals of gardening. “I felt a sense of serenity and self-possession that eluded me at other times.”
An elegantly written yet also edgily realistic account of small-town, small-garden life.