Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Wonder Garden

by Lauren Acampora

A keen and brilliant observer of the strangeness that is American suburbia. Acampora joins the ranks of writers like John Cheever and Tom Perrotta in her incisive portrait of lives intersecting in one Connecticut town.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 368
  • Publication Date February 09, 2016
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2481-4
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

An Amazon Book of the Month

John likes to arrive first. He enjoys standing quietly with a house before his clients arrive, and today, although he feels pinned beneath an invisible weight, he resolves to savor this solitary moment. It’s one of those overhauled ranches so common to Old Cranbury these days, swollen and dressed to resemble a colonial. White, of course, with ornamental shutters and latches pretending to hold them open. A close echo of its renovated sisters on Whistle Hill Road, garnished with hostas and glitzed with azaleas. He has seen too many of these to count . . .

A man strikes an under-the-table deal with a surgeon to spend a few quiet seconds closer to his wife than he’s ever been; a young soon-to-be mother looks on in paralyzing astonishment as her husband walks away from a twenty-year career in advertising at the urging of his spirit animal; an elderly artist risks more than he knows when he’s commissioned by his newly arrived neighbors to produce the work of a lifetime.

In her stunning debut The Wonder Garden, Lauren Acampora gathers with enchanting realism the myriad lives of a suburban town and lays them bare. These intricately interwoven stories take a trenchant look at the flawed people of Old Cranbury, the supposedly ordinary lives they lead, and the secrets they try so desperately to hide. Acampora’s characters are neighbors, lovers, friends, who, beneath their dreamy suburban surface, are nothing like they appear. These incisive tales reveal at each turn the unseen battles we play out behind drawn blinds, the creeping truths from which we distract ourselves, and the massive dreams we haul quietly with us and hold close.

Deliciously creepy and masterfully choreographed, The Wonder Garden heralds the arrival of a phenomenal new talent in American fiction.


“Like Wharton, Acampora seems to understand fiction as a kind of elegant design. As characters reappear in one story after another, Acampora reveals herself as a careful architect . . . accomplishes great depth of characterization, in no small part because Acampora doesn’t shy from the unpalatable . . . There is a barbed honesty to the stories that brushes up against Acam­pora’s lovely prose to interesting effect. Often a single sentence twists sinuously, charged with positive and negative electricity.” —Alix Ohlin, New York Times Book Review

“Acampora is a brilliant anthropologist of the suburbs . . . [The Wonder Garden] is reminiscent of John Cheever in its anatomizing of suburban ennui and of Ann Beattie in its bemused dissection of a colorful cast of eccentrics. But Acampora’s is entirely her own book . . . Acampora’s ability to lay bare the heartaches of complex individuals within an utterly unique imaginative world is worthy of high praise.” —Boston Globe

“In 13 sharply drawn linked stories, Acampora reveals the complexities beneath the polish and privilege of a prosperous Connecticut town.” —People

“Acampora’s stories show that an Anna Karenina principle still applies: All happy families are the same; the unhappy ones are miserable in their own special way. Or to boil it down to modern terms: mo’ money, mo’ problems . . . Add well-drawn characters, interesting plots, cultural zingers and dead-on critiques of consumerism and Acampora delivers a page-turner.” —Dallas Morning News

“A smashing debut, with range, subtlety and bite. Reading Acampora, we’re in Cheever country, with hints of Flannery O’Connor.” —Jane Ciabattari, BBC.com

“Well-plotted, incisive and beautifully written fiction.” —Bookreporter.com

“Acampora’s debut creates a portrait of a fictional upscale New York suburb, Old Cranbury, through a series of linked stories that are intelligent, unnerving, and very often strange . . . In each story, Acampora examines the tensions, longings, and mild lunacies underlying the ‘beady-eyed mommy culture’ and sociopolitical ‘forgetfulness’ marking Old Cranbury. At the same time, Acampora’s picture of the town—rendered in crisp prose and drawing on extensive architectural detail—is as irresistible as it is disturbing.” —Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)

“The stories in Acampora’s first collection are so vivid, tightly plotted, and expertly woven that they make you look forward to reading more by this accomplished author.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Spooky and fabulous . . . A clear-eyed lens into the strange, human wants of upper-class suburbia.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Acampora wields prose with the precision of a scalpel, insightfully dissecting people’s desperate emotions and most cherished hopes . . . Acampora not only meticulously conveys the allure of an outwardly paradisiacal suburban community, with its perfectly restored Victorian homes and well-tended lawns; she also clearly captures the inner turmoil of its residents, homing in on their darkest impulses and beliefs. Some of the stories’ starring characters make cameos in others, adding considerable complexity to the whole. Like Evan S. Connell in his iconic novels, Mrs. Bridge (1958) and Mr. Bridge (1969), Acampora brilliantly captures the heartaches and delusions of American suburbanites.” —Booklist (starred review)

“A dark and brilliant collection of stories. Lauren Acampora is a terrific writer.” —Joseph O’Neil, author of Netherland and The Dog

“The world depicted in Lauren Acampora’s stories seems reassuringly familiar, until it becomes unaccountably strange and unsettling. One moment we seem to be in Cheever’s Westchester, the next we plunge through the looking glass into realms that may remind some readers of George Saunders or Robert Coover or the David Lynch of Blue Velvet, though, inevitably, all resemblances prove to be superficial. Acampora is an original and The Wonder Garden is an outstanding debut.” —Jay McInerney, author of Bright Lights, Big City

The Wonder Garden is a beautiful book: witty, intelligent, deeply compassionate and gorgeously crafted. Lauren Acampora is uncannily skilled at chronicling the emotional lives of her characters with the same razor-sharp precision as she does the suburban landscape that surrounds them. I can’t stop thinking about these stories.” —Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans

“Like the famous opening scene in Blue Velvet, Lauren Acampora’s The Wonder Garden pulls us under the surface of that most carefully tended American garden, the prosperous suburb, to lay bare its dark underbelly. The Wonder Garden is wondrous, and its stories are addictive. I dreaded coming to the end.” —Susan Choi, author of My Education

“Lauren Acampora’s linked stories, about one Connecticut town, vividly explore dark interiors as well as polished facades. The Wonder Garden is an elegant construction and a chronicle of the surprising ways in which suburban lives intersect. Lauren Acampora is a writer of extraordinary dexterity.” —Elliott Holt, author of You Are One of Them

“I loved The Wonder Garden. Acampora’s writing moves like a laser through her characters’ souls, finding the deepest, darkest truths and delusions. Every story surprises. Every story is devastating. Like Mad Men set in the present day, but better.” —Heidi Pitlor, author of The Birthdays


An Amazon Book of the Month


“You know, I have to say, I feel bad for the children,” April Carlson remarks, when they are all sitting. “I know they’re lucky to escape Africa, I know things would have been worse for them there, but I can’t help thinking how hard it must be to look so different from their adoptive families.”

is fresh and blond, in clam diggers and espadrilles, though it is barely Memorial Day. It is clear, just from hearing her glass chime voice, that she has no real worries to speak of. But it is impossible to be sure. All these women guard the details of their lives. Like surfacing whales, they arch their smooth rounds only briefly into view. The great bulks remain underwater. Once a month, they appear, breathe one another in, then dive again. There are alcoholic husbands, certainly. There are prescription drugs, cosmetic surgeries, eating disorders. There must be shames in this room dark or darker than Suzanne’s own.

The women nod at April’s comment, some tightening their mouths as if in contemplation. Leanne Vogel tells of a friend with an adopted Chinese daughter, the quizzical looks they receive from supermarket cashiers. There is a general murmur. Swiftly, the discussion shifts to same-sex parenting, then to gay marriage, then to tax evasion.