The Irreproachable House

I look on the grotesque as the normal human condition after the fall.
Flannery O’Connor

The Wonder Garden
by Lauren Acompora

The false self has a flair for expressing the grotesque. Lauren Acompora, in her book of short stories entitled The Wonder Garden, focuses on that particular human condition sociologists might find among the American suburban upper middle class, well-off but not “well” as we shall see. “Despite their affluence, they are often driven to self-sabotage out of jealousy, pride, restlessness or paranoia.”

Nobokov once suggested that memory is the only real estate; but among the American “well-to do,” it might at times seem to them that real estate is the only memory. “Many of the stories revolve around houses—their renovation, preservation, decoration and sale.”

What we have here is what Fr. Thomas Keating labeled the security energy center of the false self survival strategy. But as we are coming to understand, a label can be misleading. Lusting after real estate may (like a mirage) seem to promise a quaff of thirst-quenching security but will run as sand through the grasping fingers of deluded property accumulators. P-B offers many such investments to the false self and we would all do well to distinguish, as did Jesus in Gethsemane, which promise is real and which an illusion.

“Urban exiles long for the glamour of their past lives, wondering what became of their younger, more adventurous selves.” Here again, memory plays a key role, a recollection of what never was and never will be as long as we insist on inhabiting a nightmare.

In the world of the WASPY 10%, they are insulated by their “gated” real estate and have forgotten (if they ever knew) the lives of the less fortunate, the other living on the other end of the subway or commuter train. The other may be present but in these stories, as in the lives of the privileged in every society, they tend to be invisible. “If there are service workers in Old Cranbury, their stories are not told here.” Even if Acampora had chosen to weave the “underprivileged” other into her stories those characters would merely be living lives of quiet desperation differing only in the “details of despair” from those who live in the mansion on the hill.

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References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion on this blog and in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.

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