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Sundress Reads Review of Transcendent Gardening

 

 

 

Ed Falco’s 2022 novel, Transcendent Gardening (C&RPress), is a brilliant work of prose set in Redvale, Georgia in 2016. Though the city and characters are fictional, themes from the story such as violence, loneliness, and the spread of information are part of today’s reality. The book’s epigraph is from Matthew Zapruder’s poem, “Come On All You Ghosts,” and Falco invites readers to consider the poem’s final line, “I have to say something important,” which explains the creations of the monsters that follow.

 

Violence infests the world of Transcendent Gardening. This world eats up its characters. Falco creates monsters, leaving the reader to decide which of his creations is the scariest. The reader witnesses Angel Maso, who is aware he needs help, descend into madness. Through thought and action, Angel demonstrates the violence and chaos of the world, as well as the potentially life-altering consequences of ignoring warning signs.

 

This is the story of a lonely man. One who becomes so disconnected from reality, so involved with the dismemberment of his life and psyche, that he winds up separated from humanity. Angel eventually changes so radically that his daughter can no longer recognize him. In the end, the reader grieves Angel’s losses as well as the terrible losses of his victims.

 

The reader becomes so immersed in Falco’s world, so caught up in the palpable suspense he creates, that it’s as if we know these characters and understand them as complex, thinking and feeling beings—and, at the very apex of the reader’s love for these creations, Falco drops a bomb. The result: the reader’s world rocks in time with Falco’s plot.  

 

Suspense is as present in Transcendent Gardening as the characters themselves. One trusts Falco to deliver on the promises he makes early in the book—the words and thoughts that foreshadow the eventual violence and loss. But no one can prepare for the heart-wrenching catastrophe that is this book’s climax.

 

Transcendent Gardening also offers a brilliant depiction of the way history gets distorted in the age of cable news and social media. The Media reports, eyewitness testimonies, and fantastical speculations that follow the climactic violence often obscure, and in some cases even erase, the truth. For example, the media labels Angel the “Angel of Death,” focusing on the perpetrator rather than objectively reporting the events. Some of those involved are so swept up by the drama that they wind up creating stories and motives out of thin air. Some even claim to have seen ISIS at the incident and to have heard yelling in Arabic, which the reader knows to be untrue.

 

Transcendent Gardening isn’t all doomsday-level terror. Falco is skilled at depicting deep human connections. His characters fall in love; they make impossible decisions; they become elated and embarrassed and empathize with one another. Falco handles potent feelings of grief, hatred, fear, and loneliness with grace. He paints a best-case scenario in a world where violence is a given, and he gently offers a refreshing perspective on reoccurring problems. That said, this book is potentially triggering to many, especially those who have been affected by gun violence. Falco wants his readers to sit with these uncomfortable feelings.

A call to action lurks beneath one of the novel’s concluding lines: “Nothing…was ever going to put an end to the violence in men’s hearts, but you could at least limit their access to the weapons that encouraged it.”

 

If read with care, Transcendent Gardening offers hope that our world may contain more balance and empathy in the future.

 

--Kenli Doss

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