Karen Brennan

Karen Brennan

Karen Brennan holds a PhD from University of Arizona and an MFA from Goddard. She has published Wild Desire (University of Massachusetts Press,1990), a short fiction collection, which won the AWP Award in Fiction; Here on Earth (Wesleyan University Press, 1988), a poetry collection; and Being With Rachel: A Story of Memory and Survival (W.W. Norton, 2002), a memoir that was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has had multiple Pushcart nominations and received a Pushcart Special Mention for “Cleaning House.” She has also received the Sonora Review Fiction First Prize, Florence Hemley Schneider Prize in Women’s Studies, PEN Syndicated Short Fiction Prize, and Sonora Review Poetry First Prize. A recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts Award, her essays, stories and poems have appeared in many anthologies which most recently include The Story Behind the Story (Norton), Extreme Fiction (Longman), The Business of Memory (Graywolf), and Open House (Graywolf). She is a professor in the graduate creative writing program at the University of Utah.

The Garden in Which I Walk

Karen Brennan’s jazz-infused fiction demoniacally crashes us into our delusions, our states of despairing satiation and of happy hungering. No writer since Angela Carter has brought readers such blasphemous, ribald visions of divine justice.

Kevin McIlvoy

The Garden in Which I Walk

Karen Brennan

The Garden in Which I Walk, by Karen Brennan (FC2, 2004)

2004
Quality Paper
ISBN 978-1-57366-116-4

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This extraordinarily polished and sophisticated story collection investigates the unaccountable ways in which literature and life entwine. In “Three Seaside Tales” a woman at a resort imagines herself in a Chekhov story only to succumb to banal everydayness, and in “Island Time” a young bride inexorably merges with Emma Bovary.

Brennan’s fictions position their readers at the edge of the known world, opening onto vistas of both erotic promise and ghastly beauty. The voices, youthful and aging, maniacal and restrained, represent our world’s lost, scattering their words among surrealistic ruins, as though come to inhabit their own dreams. The lovely protagonist of “Saw” inexplicably maims herself with a chainsaw, literalizing in this violent impulse the self-destructive passion of all of Brennan’s characters to actualize romance.

These characters lead the reader through a charged, personal landscape of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic complexity. The voices encountered in Brennan’s garden will continue to whisper long after the book has been closed.

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Karen Brennan’s haunting, provocative stories remind me of the very best of Alice Munro, Doris Lessing, Angela Carter, and Kafka.… Karen Brennan’s fourteen stories are all, in fact, disturbing but necessary epiphanies for our post-modern lives, revelations filled with scathing poignancy and perceptive melancholy, the kind of dark, ineffable melancholy you encounter in the late poetry of Coleridge or in Keats’ late poem “To Autumn.”

New Pages

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Some of these stories assemble deliberately dissimilar elements together and play off the comedy implicit in serious absurdities. Other stories are more conventional in their conception although Brennan is neither trite nor obvious. Her stories are in the class of clever fireworks but, since cleverness is by itself not enough, she puts it to good use. Her constant question is where do men and women go when they have reached the end. The answer may be bleak but there is no doubt about the seriousness of the quest or the authority with which the writer describes it. This is a book that you will want and that you will find rewarding to read and reread.

The Compulsive Reader

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The garden of stories found in Karen Brennan’s masterful collection The Garden in Which I Walk is plated like a crazed French topiary of dreams. The forms are all expressionistic edges, fragments and fractures, adhering to the contours of wonder and desire. There are angels in the angles and the topography breaks into the English country park paradox of landscapes — so groomed, so artificial — as to be more natural than nature. This book is a human-made Eden of poetic posed and poised prose.

Michael Martone

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The stories in The Garden in Which I Walk are ten triumphs in a single volume. Karen Brennan’s jazz-infused fiction demoniacally crashes us into our delusions, our states of despairing satiation and of happy hungering. No writer since Angela Carter has brought readers such blasphemous, ribald visions of divine justice.

Kevin McIlvoy, author of Hyssop and The Complete History of New Mexico