cover image The Paper Garden

The Paper Garden

Caitlin Vance. 7.13 Books, $19.99 trade paper (170p) ISBN 978-1-73617-670-2

Vance's intense if slightly undercooked debut collection explores the impact of mental illness on relationships. Most of the stories feature mothers and daughters, with children struggling to make sense of adult decisions. In the opening story, "Tulips," six-year-old Saige defies her depressed mother, who won't let her attend Bible study at the house across the street. Ten-year-old Anna, in "I Can Tell What's Real and What's Pretend," relies on an imaginary boyfriend to help her process her mother's annual psychiatric hospitalizations. Mothers, in contrast, neglect the source of their daughters' trauma, such as Caroline in "My Life Is the Size of a Walnut,'' who disregards the objections of her daughter, Isabelle, to visiting her grandparents. When Isabelle is a teen, she struggles with depression, and the ineffectual Caroline belatedly realizes the grandparents must have abused Isabelle ("it would be better to teach men not to abuse others in the first place rather than trying to heal all the women after the fact," Caroline reflects). Not all of the stories have staying power or elicit emotional investment, though the strongest of them turn on suspenseful situations, as with "The Hills," in which 11-year-old Lena takes her senile grandmother for her daily walk in the countryside, only to realize they've become lost. Vance's stories, at their best, are immersive and gripping. (June)