Marvin's Garden
by Joseph Brisben
Book-Art Press Solutions

"I was just the housewife, and something told me it was my role just to go along. If I had said anything, what was going to happen to me might have happened sooner."

Narrated by the title character’s long-suffering, deceased wife Madge, this is the story of a thoroughly reprehensible brute’s treatment of his cowed wife and son. Marvin is a swindler in his business dealings and a narcissist who disowns his son because he disapproves of the girl he chooses to marry. Marvin also physically assaults his wife. After Madge begins working at the telephone company, coworkers convince her that she must leave Marvin. Too intimidated to ask for a divorce, Madge decides she must murder him, but her efforts are complicated by an illness from which she eventually succumbs. But after her death, her friend Betty carries on (in her memory as it were) to inadvertently bring about what Madge longed for.

Its physical violence notwithstanding, the book has many uproarious moments. Truly, a dysfunctional family has rarely been so savagely comical in fiction. Much of the humor comes from Madge’s off-hand observations that undercut the seriousness of her plight, as when she ruminates, “I guess I thought it was my lot in life to suffer whatever came my way… Marvin felt so bad about beating me up that I got a new house out of the deal.” After more abuse and apologies from Marvin, Madge wishes a heart attack upon her husband and remarks, “I remembered that old saying: ‘The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.’ I was just going to have nature take its course and let Marvin eat himself to death.” While the narrative momentum in the novel’s last third stalls a bit from overly descriptive material that seems a bit superfluous, the final scenes along with the courtroom verdict are so well written that any flaws are easily forgiven. This entertaining novel is a memorable read in the vein of Flannery O’Connor.

Return to USR Home