Review: Destiny Gardens by John Harrison
As soon as you set foot inside Destiny Gardens, an abandoned old hall now home to a separate group of dispossessed teens, you know where you are. John Harrison has managed to capture the essence of the late 1950s inner city America in his understated, yet clean and elegant style.
As Patch rescues a near-blind girl and her younger brother from an altercation on the street that attracts the unwanted attentions of McGuire, the local beat cop, so he brings them into a tight-knit group of friends, each of whom has gravitated to Destiny Gardens by chance, with a need for security, and to escape the problems and troubles of their past. As the dynamics within the group change, with the arrival of Veronique and LJ, so too do each of their stories, some resolving, some only beginning.
Destiny Gardens is populated with references that firmly place you in the era of early Rock n’ Roll, and the situation, that of a poverty-stricken back water of Pittsburgh. From the pulp fiction and comics, to stealing in to see The Blob at the cinema, Luther’s dedication to his regular fix of Baseball on the wireless and his love of R and B, each little detail recreates the feel of the city streets. And as Patch and his friends get dragged into the netherworld of organised crime, child cruelty and family loss, you genuinely feel for them, hoping that each one will pull through their difficulties and win.
That’s not to say that Destiny Gardens is dark, gritty and tense. Harrison’s style is gentle, conjuring up images of the clean-cut boy in a check shirt with the sleeves rolled up, his short back and sides topped by a gently blond quiff. The darkness behind each of the characters’ stories is only seen at a distance, never intruding to such an extent that you find yourself squirming in discomfort.
True, I felt that Johnson’s and Tammy’s stories could have been elaborated, as on occasion they felt like supporting actors, but this would have distracted too much from the central plot surrounding Patch and Veronique. Then too, the final chapter is a slight conceit, but leaves you with a comfortable, satisfied feeling that, despite everything, there is still happiness in the world.
This is Harrison’s first novel, but his background in writing and directing in Hollywood shows through in the assured composed manner in which he writes. For a heart-warming, and at times, nerve-wracking story, the residents of Destiny Gardens are worth visiting.
**** Four stars!