The Walled Garden

by Michael Dean
10 pages,
ISBN: 0887532705

The Last Sigh

by Jacqueline Dumas
248 pages,
ISBN: 1895618215

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History Won`T Absolve Them
by Kathleen Byrne

WHO SHAPES history? The victors, of Course, "the rapists, the hackers ... theslashers, the thieves" in whose image official chronicles are fashioned,and butchery transformed to heroism overnight. But there is another history,the narrator of TheLast Sigh tells us: not officialbut personal. This is the history ofthe survivors, and Eva Bonilla, thecuriously passive protagonist of Jacqueline Dumas`s second novel, is clearlymeant to be seen as a survivor. The book opens with Eva, 3 1, a modern-dayEdmontonian, on her way to Granada, Spain, to confront a history of her own.Six years ago her common-law husband Tony died there, having inexplicablyturned up in Spain while he was supposed to be on an archeological dig inItaly. Besides their daughter Resa (born the dayTony was buried), an ancient map, and a wrought-iron key, Eva takes alonga disturbing sense that her lover had kept half his life hidden. It`s a sense thatswells with each day passed in this southern Spanish town, land of "Hola!Que?" and the cafe doble, where history is bakedinto the cobblestones -- and nearly everyone Eva meets knows moreabout "her Tonic" than she. She senses that his death (officially adrowning, but what about that bump "the size of a melon on the back of hishead"?) is related to the key and map, possessions of Tony`s ancestorshanded down through generations. What she doesn`t know is how. It`s a mystery encrusted by 500 years ofvolatile Granadino history, and decoding it is what the novel is about. It`s adangerous process, but Eva remains blind to the dangers until it`s almost toolate. "Inside you is a passion that has never been properlyawakened," the local wise woman warns her: having it awakened, by auniversally mistrusted American expatriate named Carl, is presumably whatblinds Eva to perils even her six-year-old daughter can see. Ultimately, this one-dimensionalityis what undermines the book, as if the effort Dumas lavished on historicaldetail led her to stint on psychology. The result is that, despite obviousstrengths (the character Bella, for instance, an independent, mouthy, shrewdacquaintance of Eva`s whom Dumas brings to boisterous life), The Last Sigh merely repeats the tiredhuman refrain of murder and greed and stupidity. History has not elevated it,nor, unfortunately, made it more compelling. The Walled Garden, asecond novel by Michael Dean, is also informed by history, of a sort: there theresemblance ends. For this book is narrated by an angel. Oh yes, it is; theAngel Gabriel, in fact, with wings and a hairy chest and a hole in his heartthe size of a quarter, or is it a half-crown? It doesn`t really matterbecause the hole, which may or may not he real, is a metaphor, just as theAngel Gabriel, who may or may not be real, is a metaphor, at least I thinkthey`re metaphors -- but never mind. Our narrator, he of the angel wings, hasa garden, a very special garden, and in this garden is a rosebush, a veryspecial rosebush. What makes them so special is that the garden, being no age,garden-variety garden, is really a Persian carpet (do you think that`s a metaphor?), which gets trod upon bySaints -- you wouldn`t believe the saints, the place is crawlingwith saints, and all on account of the rosebush. You see, the rosebush, which was plantedby AG`s beloved, Claudette (Lis far as I can tell not an angel, though as AG`swife she might be considered a saint), has got the Black Spot, and so getsripped out, but because it stands for their marriage, well, their marriage goeskaput along with it. But that`s not all. Because, ",here the rosebush used tohe is now a hole -- my God! what a hole, it`s the busiest placeOutside Heaven, this hole, so many saints and spirits and mysterious ladiescome wafting out of it. There`s Augustine Baker, the 17th-century mystic,and the Lady of the Laurel Hedge, who I don`t think has anything to do with theWounded Lady but who I know isn`t the Lady in Black (the nasty, nasty spiritwho inhabits Claudette), though she might well he connected to the Lady of theNorth, a.k.a. the Lady who Pierces the Heart with Cold -- a deadringer for the Lady of Perugia, by the way, if You`re ever in the NationalGallery of Umbria. Or -- damn, is that the Lady of the Rose? Anyway, they`re all connected, thesethings (and you`ll he happy to 11 knowClaudette turfs the ghost); but in of the epigrams and footnotes galore, it`simpossible to know just how. Just as it`s impossible to know if The Walled Garden is intended as seriouswriting or high camp; too clever by half, it`s all but unreadable, and I forone don`t care enough to find out.

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