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
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