The Changeling Garden

Winifred Elze

St. Martin's Press. $21.95
(paper $5.99)

When David says the flowers in the new garden talk to him, his mother Annie dismisses it as a child's fantasy. But how, then, to explain the ideas and thoughts Annie finds suddenly in her own mind? -- that the apple tree would like a swing for David, that the roses and shrubbery are looking forward to a spring pruning.

With her husband Mark away on frequent business trips, Annie and David must settle into their new house on their own. The house and extensive gardens are both comforting and disturbing, and if Annie gradually accepts that the plants talk back, she has other things, both strange and mundane, to consider: Such as why the plants talk at all, and how to keep the bank from turning the garden into a parking lot, and who are the mysterious, half-seen Indians, and is the rash of recent murders in town connected with her family's own arrival?

This first novel, The Changeling Garden by Winifred Elze is an engaging bit of light reading, sometimes tense, but also, in the end, unsatisfying. Elze handles several key elements of the plot clumsily: the Toltec and the Mayan come across as a deus ex machina device, and the "final showdown" at the bank is anti-climactic. Other ideas are only half developed, including Mark as a murder suspect, or Annie supposedly being old Mrs. Avent's "soul-daughter" returned home at last. As for characterization, five-year-old David is so obnoxiously secure and superior in his rapport with the garden that it's easy to wish something would happen to him; and Annie's self-conscious paranoia is rapidly annoying, transparently drawing attention to clues and foreshadowing.

This is not to suggest that The Changeling Garden is a bad book, just that it could have and should have been better. Elze's ideas show a lot of promise, and her writing is largely competent. If, when all is said and done, The Changeling Garden is disappointing, it is still good enough to mark Elze as an author worth keeping an eye on.


This review copyright 2000 by Wendy Morris

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