The Garden Party by Grace Dane Mazur
Published by Random House, 212 pages, $27
Written in a beautifully slithering and silky style, the latest novel from former silkworm researcher Grace Dane Mazur fittingly echoes those creatures’ entanglements. Set in 1991 Brookline, The Garden Party brings together the Cohens—a family awash with literary and dreamy thoughts—and the lawyer-soaked Barlows, who enjoy tennis and golf. Future veterinarian Eliza Barlow hovers in the middle of the two families and is set to marry Adam Cohen, a poet. When the relatives meet, they look warily across the figurative aisle.
Adam’s sisters have their own fruitiness: Sara studies scorpions, loving the science but also their folklore; she also loves a Jesuit man. Naomi, vulnerable with a shaved head, has worked with people in poor countries; she’s well-intentioned but lost. Given the families’ differences in values, an exciting connection forms between Cohen grandmother Leah and Barlow grandfather Nathan Morrill. He’s flirtatious as he turns his attention to the colorful and rebellious painter who worked in Paris during the 1920s.
As the party proceeds, with family styles surprisingly coalescing, Cohen patriarch Pindar’s quirky perspective characterizes the novel’s ethos. Largely detached from the events, his thoughts flow forth in a mystical way. He’s working on a Babylonian cookbook with anthropological elements and thinks dreamily to himself about time and its meanings. Philosophical wonderings swim through the book as family members muse on their beliefs and dilemmas. Mazur’s writing stands on that same stylistic perch alongside the wedding dramas of her colorful characters.
From page 121: “Listening to her son, Celia wondered where his poetry came from. He was not the howling sort. Part of his wildness came from his delight in words, their music, the sparks as they collided. But it seemed to come also from some further place, down where presence was laced with loss, and beauty danced with grief.” ◆