Pamela Holm

"The Night Garden"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie SEP 5, 2005)

"The sky has gone from pink to dark blue, and the glowing arc of the moon was rising over the East Bay hills. Harlan turned on the tiny white lights that he'd strung across the fence. He stood with his back to the corner of the yard and looked at his friends and family. 'Thanks for coming, everyone. I really wanted you to see this.' Harlan lifted the fiberglass screens off their chains. The fence was a deep blanket of green leaves and bell-shaped flowers the color of the moon. As everyone watched, the green rocket blossom of the night-blooming cereus came alive. In one smooth languorous motion the outside leaves curled back on themselves, pushing the layers of white petals outward into a star-burst of white angel wings. Jewel squealed as a snowy spider shape fell from the center of the bloom and dangled on a two-inch tendril." 

"'What is that?' Dawn asked, her voice full of amazement. 

'A night-blooming cereus. It blooms for one night only.' 

The flower exhaled a cloud of scent - notes of jasmine, honeysuckle and vanilla hung in the air."

In her new novel, Night Garden, author Pamela Holm captures the ephemeral nature of relationships, and the multitude of emotions ignited when a partnership/romance ends. This is a quirky tale of people whose lives are in flux, and who are able to handle their changed status creatively. The essential element, common to all, is a strong sense of self on which to fall back. These characters are survivors.

Dawn Mackenzie and her nine year-old daughter, Jewel, have moved into a new house, "painted an awkward blue of a Mexican bakery with straggling bougainvillea that arches over the front door." The best feature is the deck which looks over the rooftops to the San Francisco Bay. Dawn chose this particular house because it has a downstairs studio apartment she can rent out to help with expenses. The back yard is in shambles but she has plans to begin a garden with Jewel, who wants her own scent garden, "In case one of us goes blind." The child is delightfully morbid throughout.

Dawn and Jewel had lived with David, their boyfriend/father figure, for five years. An overpowering, larger than life man, he began to stifle Dawn until she really needed her own space to thrive. She and her daughter are adjusting to the newness of living on their own, after the comparative luxury of David's place, and his home cooking. Ironically, Dawn works as an exterminator, by day, killing vermin. At night, however, she draws them. She was trained in technical drawing and she aspires to become a full time illustrator of insects. One of her new projects is to put together a portfolio.

Harlan, a documentary filmmaker, responds to Dawn Mackenzie's "Apartment for Rent" notice. He becomes the new tenant, occupying the studio space and sharing a common roof. Harlan had been happily married for years, but his wife's obsession with having a child, to the detriment of all else, distanced the two considerably. On a night out, Harlan picked up Sophia at a club. She is a beautiful exotic dancer. He thinks he's in love. Oh, how a little lust can affect one's thought processes! After confessing all to spouse, Macie, she threw him out. Thus the need for new digs.

Over a period, Dawn, Jewel, and Harlan become good friends. When Dawn cannot sleep at night, she goes out to work in her garden in the dark. Harlan often comes to help out and keep her company. The garden becomes a special sanctuary for all of them. Harlan's business partner enters the picture when he becomes smitten with Dawn.

Ms. Holm writes a straightforward, fluid narrative, although the pace is slow at times. Her characters are credible and she juggles various storylines with ease. Although she makes some perceptive observations about the nature of love and lust, decision making and the inevitable consequences, the plot is somewhat predictable. Holm obviously loves her city and her descriptions of San Francisco during all the year's seasons are quite beautiful. Overall, this is a charming, often humorous, story and makes for an entertaining read.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews

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About the Author:

Pamela HolmPamela Holm is a freelance artist living in San Francisco. She has written a myriad of essays that have been published in a variety of newspapers and magazines including Image Magazine, SOMA, San Francisco Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Denver Post. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014