From Dale Peck, “one of the most eloquent voices of his generation,”* and MISCHIEF + MAYHEM, the writers collective that brought you Lisa Dierbeck’s THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JENNY X, comes a novel about “the odd entanglements of love, loss, of the impossible realized through generosity.”
When Dale Peck began writing what he thought would be his fourth book, THE GARDEN OF LOST AND FOUND, in 1997, he had no idea that fifteen years would pass before it finally saw the light of day. The odyssey of this “strange and wonderful”‡ novel has so many twists, turns, and reversals that it’s impossible to tell you what it’s about without first telling you how it came into being—or, more accurately, how it almost never came to be at all.
Peck, the author of the acclaimed novels MARTIN AND JOHN, NOW IT’S TIME TO SAY GOODBYE, and SPROUT (winner of the inaugural Lambda Literary Award for Young Adult fiction) as well as the controversial collection of book reviews, HATCHET JOBS, sold THE GARDEN OF LOST AND FOUND to Rob Weisbach Books in 1998; by the time it was finished, however, William Morrow, Weisbach Books’ parent company, had been purchased by HarperCollins, and the Weisbach imprint no longer existed. After a series of editorial wrangles and tragedies (including the death of the first editor assigned to the novel) Peck left HarperCollins, and went looking for another publisher.
But history had another wrench to throw in the works: 9/11.
THE GARDEN OF LOST AND FOUND is a New York story, set just a few blocks from Ground Zero. Peck was forced to shelve the novel while he considered how to respond to the city’s radically altered political and geographical landscape. By the time he was ready to return the book to market, however, his review of Rick Moody’s The Black Veil, with its now-infamous first line,|| appeared in the New Republic, and with the publication of HATCHET JOBS in 2004 Peck’s status as the pariah of the publishing industry had been cemented. After dozens of rejections (in some cases the manuscript was returned unread, in others Peck was told his novel was “unpublishable” because its author’s unpopularity would make it all but impossible for the book to be fairly, let alone favorably, reviewed) Peck eventually sold THE GARDEN to Carroll and Graf. But in what had become a common industry phenomenon, Carroll and Graf, like Rob Weisbach Books, was purchased and dissolved.
For the second time in seven years, THE GARDEN OF LOST AND FOUND had been orphaned.
This time, however, Peck decided to take matters into his own hands. With a group of writers, including Lisa Dierbeck (One Pill Makes You Smaller) and Choire Sicha (former editorial director of Gawker Media and co-founder of The Awl), he started MISCHIEF + MAYHEM, a direct-to-reader print-on-demand publishing collective that was hailed at its launch as “the book industry’s new danger brigade.”§ After the headline-generating publication of THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JENNY X (whose first copies were sold on the sidewalk outside Barnes and Noble’s flagship Union Square store, with readers piggybacking on the store’s wifi network to buy the book from M+M’s website), the collective returns with its second title, THE GARDEN OF LOST AND FOUND.
THE GARDEN tells the story of James Ramsay, a 21-year-old man who discovers he’s inherited a building in New York City upon the death of his mother, who disappeared from his life shortly after his first birthday. James’s childhood was spent shunted from the home of one ever-more-attenuated relative to another; for the two years prior to his mother’s death he’s lived on his own in a small town in Kansas, where he’s been having bi-monthly liaisons with a 55-year-old traveling salesman he knows only as Trucker. Just before James learns that his mother has died, Trucker tells James that he’s infected him with HIV. He lades James with guilt money and sends him to his new home in New York.
Confused and shaken, James takes up residence in No. 1 Dutch Street, the five-story brownstone his mother has left him, whose only other tenant is an elderly black woman named Nellydean. Because of its location a few blocks from the World Trade Center, the building’s lot is worth millions, but the estate is cash poor. James is immediately faced with a choice: sell the building for a small fortune—and turn Nellydean out of the only home she’s known for more than forty years—or attempt to stave off the mounting tide of taxes that will cause him to forfeit his only connection to a mother he never knew.
Before he can decide what to do about either No. 1 or his obviously failing health, James finds himself caught up in one of those only-in-New-York narratives that takes his life in a completely unexpected direction. A chance encounter lands him on the cover of the New York Post, which in turn brings two new people into his life: Knute Lingon, a middle-aged former ad exec moonlighting as a reporter, who finds himself smitten with the troubled youth; and Claudia MacTeer, Nellydean’s niece, who is looking for a home for herself and her unborn child. The strange threesome become tangled in a web of sexual, familial, and financial complications, over which hangs the specter of 9/11.
“A strange and wonderful novel” by “a strange and wonderful novelist,”‡ THE GARDEN OF LOST AND FOUND tells a story that, like its own complex genesis, is about what happens when personal history collides with public forces. Writing with the linguistic fluency that led the New York Times to label him “one of the most eloquent voices of his generation,” and displaying the kind of inventiveness that led the San Francisco Chronicle to name him “one of our most adventurous and singularly talented writers,”◊ Peck “tells the quintessential New York story with his delicious style and piercing ability to move.”† Hallucinatory, lyrical, and often darkly hilarious, THE GARDEN OF LOST AND FOUND is a “brilliant” interrogation of identity, race, and sexual politics by a writer who “appreciates language not for its tricks but for its power to genuinely stir heart and mind.”⁂
* Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
† Martha McPhee, author of Gorgeous Lies
‡ Joseph O’Neill, author of Netherland
|| What are you looking down here for? You know how it goes.
§ Michael H. Miller, the New York Observer
◊ David Wiegand
⁂ Brad Hooper, Booklist
Dale Peck is a co-founder of Mischief + Mayhem as well as the author of ten previous books: Martin and John, The Law of Enclosures, Now It’s Time to Say Goodbye, What We Lost, Body Surfing, and Shift, all novels; Drift House, The Lost Cities, and Sprout, all young adult novels; and Hatchet Jobs, a collection of book reviews. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous publications and have earned him a Pushcart Prize, two O. Henry awards, the inaugural Lambda Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction, and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. He lives with his husband, Lou Peralta, in New York City, where he has been an Associate Professor in the Graduate Writing Program of the New School since 1999.