The action of Grace Dane Mazur’s exquisite new novel, The Garden Party, is set in a single day. Celia and Pindar Cohen, both writers, host a wedding rehearsal dinner in the garden for their son Adam, a professor poet, and his bride, Eliza Barlow. But the Cohens dread the party. Celia is a literary critic and Pindar is researching a book about Babylonian cookery; the Barlows are lawyers with whom they have nothing in common. Celia would like to put the Barlows at a separate table. She is still brooding over the seating chart and the menu as the guests arrive.
Celia muses on the subject of parties.
She loved parties, but she felt insufficient with all those lawyers coming to her house, inspecting. The floors were clean, everything glowed, but she didn’t know what they would be expecting. Did this mean they would now come over for Thanksgiving? And would she have to go to their Christmas festivities?
In the course of the day, there are many uncomfortable interactions. The Barlows do not appreciate the wild whimsicality of the Cohens’ garden. And the bride and groom, Eliza and Adam, so dread the huge wedding that Eliza’s brother, Harry, a former seminarian, offers to officiate at a private ceremony to reduce the pressure of the big day. They retreat to the attic, where the ceremony is comically interrupted; the same thing happens by the pond. Finally they succeed at the dinner table. Their most important witness is Pindar’s 91-year-old sharp, still brilliant mother, Leah, an artistic gardener with a romantic past in Paris.
As I read, I fleetingly thought of two of Virginia Woolf’s best novels, Mrs. Dalloway and Between the Acts. Mazur narrates the events of the day from multiple points-of-view and often through stream-of-consciouness. Every sentence is gorgeously crafted. And she has perfect control over a huge cast of characters. Her language really is almost Woolfian at times.
One of my favorite books of the year!