THE DEEP ONES: "The Neglected Garden" by Kathe Koja
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"The Neglected Garden" by Kathe Koja
Discussion begins on March 20, 2019.
First published the April 1991 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
SELECTED PRINT VERSIONS
The New Weird
Koja is always tops at nailing conflicting emotions that collide and erupt simultaneously in troubled relationships. She's also tops at taking body horror over the edge. I got the idea that the "garden" here might not have been so neglected once she was attached to the fence.
Really good take on the stories in Extremities. Z This all reminds me that I've been meaning to re-read The Cipher for a while now...
I'm always tempted to think in terms of allegory, and yet seldom confident it's warranted (let alone intended by the author). In any case, though here it's fairly easy to find an allegory in "The Neglected Garden", I was most pleased when I compelled myself to read it literally.
In an interview at Weird Fiction Review, Koje remarks, "there is a real difference to me between 'weird' and 'ugly.' Cruelty to the helpless is irredeemably ugly and I can’t stomach it." There were points during this story I had to look away from the screen because of the thoughts that were amassing there, based on where I thought the story was going. By and large, though, I think Koja met her own stipulation. Ironically, for me this was accomplished by having one character kill off another.
I found myself wondering whether Koja wants the reader to sympathize with Anne. We're given no insight at all in what their relationship prior to the start of the story, so we don't know how justified the man is in wanting to throw her out, nor do we know if she has anywhere else to go.
Also, what's wrong with Richard the doctor? If he, very understandably, thinks that the protagonist put her on the fence, why on earth doesn't he call the police on him?
Does, BTW, the Richard's "It is a her, isn’t it?" suggest that the protagonist have a history of troubled relationships with women?
Koja's main characters, at least back in her 90's work, are often psychologically damaged and extremely difficult to like. At the same time, you want them to persevere and somehow cut through the murk of their thought processes. Not a very comfortable read, but I think that's the author's intent.
Besides Richard and the police, a simple call for an ambulance might have also done the trick. So why doesn't help come from one of these obvious routes is a very good question.
>9 KentonSem: So why doesn't help come from one of these obvious routes is a very good question.
That angle is a big contributor to my urge to interpret the story allegorically. If it's an allegory, then it's less "troubling" that neighbours know a woman is tangled on the back fence for days, and yet don't intervene except to complain of the nuisance it is. They behave as though they're overhearing an audible quarrel, and not witnessing bodily torture. Same with Richard and the police on the phone.
And from this perspective, too, Anne can be seen as becoming empowered within the context of her relationship. Still doesn't provide any more insight into the relationship, but suggests that one thing lacking was her lack of agency, and now that has changed.
Reading it more literally, then, it becomes something of a modified Kitty Genovese scenario, with all involved additionally sensing that something even worse is about to happen, but if they prevent it, then they won't know. I'm glad that Koja isn't letting us off the hook, one way or the other.
Spare thought - maybe there is an actual neglected garden out back and it's protesting, using Anne as a vector... Maybe the unnamed narrator's relationship with her doesn't really matter that much in the end and those neighbors had better see to their own gardens!
Took the opportunity to review the wikipedia article on the Kitty Genovese murder: I recalled that the main argument was disproven (not as many witnesses as reported actually understood what was going on, and no evidence that any of those "did nothing"), but was surprised to learn that Harlan Ellison wrote an article on it and perhaps exaggerated further the already mistaken reporting of The New York Times.
Koja's garden symbolism is certainly an effective choice for her Weird style.
A fairly recent book, Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America goes into great detail about what might have really happened. Harlan was actually beating the drum for it for a while, if I remember correctly. Still, the name remains synonymous with the legend, for better or worse.
Since I had to look up who Kitty G. was, I will skip all that analysis. I had heard about the story but could not have recalled when or where it happened, let alone who.
The first bit was mighty disturbing from several angles. For some reason it eased the discomfort, that she's a female author, but not the impact. I found myself with clenched teeth just determined to get through it, but as the white flower imagery kicked in, the unsettling irritation dissipated. My Hugh Jackman dvds include The Fountain (2006) directed by Darren Aronofsky, made in Montreal I think. At times quite violent, there is a scene in the film that ties in the fountain of youth and it somewhat tamed the story imagery for me at least temporarily. I had visceral reactions strangely, to both. Flipped stomach and all. I absolutely admit to being a lightweight when it comes to horror gore, and I rely on my own imagination when reading, to know how far it can take me before I get traumatized, but it doesn't always let me off the hook. I can read further than I can watch, because I have been gifted with a technicolour prism for this stuff and must be carefull or I'd never sleep again.
Got through this intact, thanks to the Spanish Inquisition. Love lush green jungle scenes so my scales were balanced afterall.
ETA: I watched part of the interview in the link above, and enjoyed her comments on M.R.James. I recall both stories vividly as well, the mouth/pillow and the scene in the movie theatre in Casting of Runes. It helped give context to this story, even vaguely, since I've read nothing else yet by her.
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