In Garner, New Hampshire, in 1925, postman Willard Heald discovers the body of Frances Giddens in a stream. Frances is the ostensible and elusive heroine of Garner, attracting both natives and summer visitors who board at her family’s home. Heald fancies himself the town chronicler, and fragments of his writings pepper his narrative. He sets up Garner as a cold New England town that does not welcome outsiders, and yet boarders come every summer and a wealthy New York couple buys a farm there. It is Heald who does not welcome the outside world, and in fact, what unravels is his particular fascination with Frances – who may be tempted to leave.
Garner is the most nonlinear of tales, starting with Frances’s death, then dipping back again into her life, alternating narrators without allowing insight into any of them. I found this book to be incredibly opaque. Allio hints at what lies beneath the surface of Garner, but even at the conclusion, it remains tantalizingly beyond reach. I read and reread, hoping to discover what really happened to Frances, but in the end, I was frustrated. The prose defeated me with its archness and self-conscious uses of parentheses (forgive my use, but imagine if this entire review was parenthesized). By the conclusion, I felt as though this book did not want to be known but wanted to be “literary” (with no apologies for the quotation marks, but you can see how the parentheses have left their mark).