cover image The Garden

The Garden

Clare Beams. Doubleday, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-385-54818-2

Beams follows up her acclaimed novel The Illness Lesson with an atmospheric story of a strange obstetrical clinic in late-1940s Western Massachusetts. Irene is young, in love with her husband George, and pregnant for the sixth time, the first five pregnancies having ended in miscarriage. In hopes of carrying her baby to term, she enters a residential treatment center run by a married doctor couple in the Berkshires. The clinic is housed in an ancestral estate whose depiction by Beams as “a mammoth, patient creature” owes much to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. There, prickly and recalcitrant Irene joins “like-circumstanced women” for a strict regiment of rest. She forms an uneasy alliance with two fellow patients, know-it-all Margaret and amiable Pearl, and together they discover a walled garden on the estate that has supernatural properties, the details of which would be a spoiler to mention. Beams adeptly conjures the clinic’s heightened atmosphere, populated as it is by desperate pregnant women willing to subject themselves to just about anything to birth healthy babies (“The only thing she was more afraid of than staying was leaving”). The author’s fans will delight in this inspired and unsettling work. (Apr.)