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WHEN EMILY WENT MISSING by Michael Weems Kirkus Star


My Haunted Garden Book 1

From the My Haunted Garden series, volume 1

by Michael Weems

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 2021
ISBN: 979-8-70-818729-1
Publisher: Self

A young woman experiences supernatural horticulture in small-town Texas.

Weems’ novel starts off on a normal enough, albeit sordid, note: In the town of Foxglove, Texas, young Ruth Gonzalez’s mother, referred to only as “Mom,” begins a secret affair with her former high school boyfriend, Dale Roberts (Ruth: “His name still tastes like vomit in my mouth whenever I speak it”), while Ruth’s father is out of town. What followed has become known as “the Incident.” Overcome with remorse, Mom broke off her affair with Dale. But Dale returned to their house later, drunk, and shot her to death, severely injuring Ruth with an errant gunshot through her head. (“Numerous bridges of my brain were either damaged or wholly disconnected, but instant death was not a result,” she deadpans. “I called that a win.”) In the wake of the Incident, Ruth’s life changes dramatically. In addition to the fact that her brain “did some rewiring,” her long-haul trucker father decides to get a local job so they can spend more time together. One priority is to leave their murder-haunted house. They take the groundskeeper’s property at the local cemetery, a house once occupied by an eccentric character named Eddie who compulsively knew everything about every U.S. president and claimed that the overgrown garden behind the property was peculiarly resistant to mowing or pruning. The novel is narrated from Ruth’s first-person perspective, and by this point, she’s already revealed to readers that she often hears Eddie’s president-obsessed thoughts in her head and that one of her best friends “is a dead woman named Lilith.” So, it’s no surprise when she immediately begins to feel a strange communication with the overgrown wild garden behind her new house.

Weems balances the mixture of small-town ways and supernatural happenings with an easy, seasoned confidence. The key to this success is his decision to tell the story from the immediate viewpoint of Ruth herself—and to invest her with a quirky, dark, sharply observant personality more reminiscent of a Flannery O’Connor character than of Harper Lee’s Scout. This decision allows Weems to flex his comic talents even in the grimmest moments of the plot. At one particularly dark moment at the book’s climax, for instance, Ruth spots a procession of fire ants floating together across the surface of a body of water and thinks they look “like a bunch of drunk college kids floating the Guadalupe.” The twin forces impinging on Ruth’s post-shooting life—the brainless, gossiping cruelty of her classmates (one more than others, the Emily of the book’s title) and Ruth’s own burgeoning supernatural experiences—lead her to commune not only with dead people, but also with the mysterious garden itself: “You can sleep here. Sleep in the dirt with us,” that garden voice tells her. “It’s peaceful here….You can rest while we’ll watch over you.” The narrative moves ahead at its own distinctly idiosyncratic pace, with Ruth digressing at pretty much any point she pleases. The result is entirely winning, a story that manages to be simultaneously dark and heartwarming.

A gripping, ultimately endearing supernatural tale about an odd girl and an even odder garden.