cover image Reinhardt’s Garden

Reinhardt’s Garden

Mark Haber. Coffee House, $16.95 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-56689-562-0

Haber’s debut novel (after the collection Deathbed Conversions) is an exhilarating fever dream about the search for the secret of melancholy. The story opens in 1907, in the forests of Uruguay, as Croatian Jacov Reinhardt searches for Emiliano Gomez Carrasquilla, a reclusive writer who Reinhardt believes holds the key to understanding melancholy—an all-consuming emotion for Reinhardt and the subject of a treatise he’s desperately trying to complete. At the story’s outset, 10 men have already died on the expedition, and it seems to the book’s unnamed narrator, Reinhardt’s longtime factotum, that they’re going in circles. As the doomed expedition plods about, the narrator slips into his memories of Reinhardt: his cataloguing of different nationalities’ melancholic characters (“A Russian was a downright brilliant melancholic but was in love with his own melancholia so that it was sentimental and embarrassing”), his construction of a weird castle in Stuttgart with fake walls and trap doors, and his relationship with a retired prostitute named Sonja. The true pleasure of Haber’s novel—a single paragraph—is how it swirls and doubles back on itself on both a story level, with memories bleeding into one another, and on a prose level: Reinhardt seeks “to unearth the melancholy at the root of joy, or perhaps the joy at the root of melancholy, because the order, he said, has always been immaterial.” Haber’s dizzying vision dextrously leads readers right into the melancholic heart of darkness.[em] (Oct.) [/em]