Recently, a friend strongly recommended that I obtain a copy of The Search for the Villa Melzi Gardens and other tales of mystery, struggle and redemption by Jane Lawless, assuring me that this collection of stories was superbly written and very enjoyable. After reading the book, I strongly agree. I felt a loss when I finished the last story. You can order the book from Amazon,
Amazon’s website comments, in part, that: “For the first time this collection brings together many of her stories previously published in magazines all over America, along with some new stories previously unpublished. If you love stories of real relationships beautifully told and intensely felt, find yourself a cozy place to read and prepare to be delighted.”
I found myself relating to the characters in the story, whether they were similar to people I know or they are very different than people I come into contact with such as the stories from Southern Illinois or other rural areas. There was a strong historic component to many of the stories that woke up a period of time that I generally don’t think about.
The stories varied greatly in terms of length, location, personality, theme – some were mystical, and resolution. The language is almost musical. I love the short story format, allowing me to read a story in a fairly short time and then anticipate the next, wondering what it would be about.
As I finished some of the stories, fifteen in all, I kept thinking this is my favorite until I read further. I especially liked Tree Angel for being so quirky, Secrets which was poignant, All of It – taking place where I live and so unexpected, The Visitor for its twists and turns, Threes for the mystery, and The Trespasser, complex and compelling.
Lawless offered some insight into the inspiration for some of her stories as follows. “. Until I began to have trouble with my R knee and foot a couple of years ago, I had spent 15 years as a volunteer at Pikes Peak Hospice, both in patient care and as an assistant chaplain. Colorado Springs is a military town and many veterans retire here because of the climate and medical services. I sat at the bedsides of these men and women and held their hands in their final days and hours. I was stunned that so many of them had never talked about their combat experiences, and it was clear that they could not die in peace unless they unburdened themselves of their memories.
They were collectively the inspiration for “Hunting Season” and “Columbia Livia.”
When I asked how it was that Lawless chose to publish the book at this time, she responded that, “As for what motivated me to publish my works as a book at the time I did, I simply felt that there were not enough years left in my life to pursue traditional publishing venues. Self-publishing is now respectable in its own right and many mainstream writers are using it. But more than that, during my years of editing “Chicago Quarterly Review”, I had become increasingly disgusted with the mess we had to slog through: there was no beauty of language, no accountability, no ultimate issues, no kindness, no beauty, no god, etc. And they almost all, without exception, ended on a negative note.
I feel I have a responsibility to not leave my readers in a state of despair. Stories don’t have to have happily-ever-after endings, but there may be among my readers those who have just buried a child, lost everything in a natural disaster or been diagnosed with a catastrophic disease. They deserve a life-affirming note.”
And I do think it is the element in each story that is, indeed, life affirming that makes this book so meaningful.
Photos: Courtesy of Jane Lawless, unless otherwise noted.