The Wishing Garden Book Review by Diane Wilkes

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As a huge Alice Hoffman fan, I was rather appalled when I came upon Christy Yorke’s Magic Spells on the bookshelf at Borders several months ago. It seemed clear that the plot was cribbed from Practical Magic--but being a book slut of the first order, I bought and read it anyway. I was impressed against my will with Yorke’s writing style, which also owes a considerable debt to Hoffman, and even though the book was derivative, I found it a compelling read.

More compelling, however, was the chapter snippet in the back of the book for Yorke’s upcoming novel, The Wishing Garden. It was reasonably enticing, but the real allure was that the protagonist Savannah Dawson was an ad exec by day, but a tarot reader by night. Well, I began to haunt the fiction shelves, searching between Yamamoto and Young regularly, even though I knew it wasn’t scheduled to be out for some months.

It officially went on sale August 1st, but I’m happy to say one of the bookstores in my area sometimes puts books out a little early, and I was able to purchase it a few days before the publishing date. I finished The Wishing Garden yesterday, and found myself saddened to reach the last page. This was not because I was disappointed in the book, but because I wanted to find out what happened next to several of the characters. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no higher accolade for a book than that.

The skeletal version of the plot is this: Savannah Dawson goes home to her native Arizona because her father, Doug, the world’s sweetest man, is dying. Maggie, Savannah’s mother, is perhaps the world’s most sour woman, and the main reason Savannah has stayed away. Just to make Savannah’s life a little more difficult, her adolescent and somewhat self-destructive daughter, Emma, initially refuses to go--and then falls madly in love with a teenager on the road to either Hell or prison.

Savannah still exudes sunshiny optimism, much like the aromatic jasmine that blooms in Doug’s lovingly tended garden. On every level, Savannah’s scent attracts Jake, whom Doug has commissioned to build a bench as his life’s monument in the arboretum. Since Maggie refers to the woodcarver as "Psycho," you know Savannah will have to find Jake equally attractive, else there would be little plot of which to speak.

The tale does take some unexpected twists and turns, and with them, I have a few unanswered questions. How does Jake’s mother get home when she gets a ride up the mountain with Savannah’s family? How does Doug’s garden continue to bloom when no one is there to tend it? Arizona, the novel’s symbol of aridity that can be conquered by persistent love and care, is not the garden capital of the world, as is certainly evinced throughout the book.

I don’t question the appearance of ghosts and auras, though, and this book is studded with them, as well as other occult ingredients. The Rider-Waite-Smith is the deck that illustrates each chapter heading, and while I wonder where Yorke arrived at some of her interpretations and beliefs, I am so happy to find a book in which the tarot is so liberally marbled that I am striving not to get too petty.

But I never knew that the King of Cups was the "card of a professional and a pleaser...that often comes to artists or scientists, someone enamored with their career," the Nine of Pentacles "a card of storms," and the Emperor indicates "war-making tendencies." I don’t know it now, either. Savannah avers that the R-W-S "has the worst odds," as opposed to Thoth. I’m not sure I want her as my bookie. As for history, Savannah claims that "the tarots go back to Egyptian times." Yorke consistently refers to "the tarots," which annoys me as terminology, and needless to say, tarot history has been in safer hands.

But these are trifling complaints about a book that also includes passages like, "The cards don’t make things happen...[T]hey just show us options. They clarify," and "The tarots are...an act of trust in the universe. Selecting cards at random and trusting in their judgment is an acknowledgment that we’re not always in control here."

While the R-W-S deck plays the most prominent role in The Wishing Garden, the Voyager is described as "a deck whose bad cards were opportunities for redemption." At one point, it’s the only deck Savannah is willing to use, and particular cards are mentioned and described. Most tarot readers can identify with the desire to use a "gentle" deck during a crisis of faith.

Yorke also offers assessments some professional tarot readers have surely considered: "Just once, she’d like to hear someone to ask how to change the world...People didn’t want to hear how to be happy. They wanted her to promise them their heart’s desire...the only fortunes that got through were the ones a person wanted to hear."

Yorke’s writing still evokes Alice Hoffman to me, not only in terms of interweaving magical elements into the plot of the novel, but stylistically: "It’s always best to fall in love in summer. You can’t sustain lies in heat like that. Doubt just shrivels up."

Every vivid description seems to underscore the novel’s symbolism, too: One example: "So that was why the fax was still on Cal’s desk. He stood with his back to it, staring out his office window at a day that had begun with frost on the ground, and was ending in steam rising off the high desert floor. Earthquake weather, they called it in California. Here in Prescott, though, only people got shook up. Within a few hours, when the storms moved in off Kemper Peak, the calls would start coming in about juveniles terrorizing the neighborhood and honest men up and leaving their wives. If dry lightning sprang up, it was entirely possible all hell might break loose." Predictably, the fax has a Tower effect on the book’s characters. The thought that Christy Yorke is an assumed name for Alice Hoffman did float through my mind like a silk-screened scarf (Now I’m trying to write like Alice Hoffman. Christy Yorke is much better at it.).

The Wishing Garden stands on its own for the poetic, yet realistic, characterization and consistently splendid writing. The fact that the tarot (as opposed to the tarots) is so heavily integrated into the novel is just a major bonus. I recommend it to any fan of good literature, not to mention every tarot enthusiast.

The Wishing Garden
Author: Christy York
ISBN: 0553580361
Publisher: Bantam Books

Review Copyright © 2000 Diane Wilkes

If you would like to purchase this book, click here.


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