Benjamin Percy is joining us today to talk about his novel, The Unfamiliar Garden. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The night the sky fell, Jack and Nora Abernathy’s daughter vanished in the woods. And Mia’s disappearance broke her parents’ already fragile marriage. Unable to solve her own daughter’s case, Nora lost herself in her work as a homicide detective. Jack became a shell of a man; his promising career as a biologist crumbling alongside the meteor strikes that altered weather patterns and caused a massive drought.
It isn’t until five years later that the rains finally return to nourish Seattle. In this period of sudden growth, Jack uncovers evidence of a new parasitic fungus, while Nora investigates several brutal, ritualistic murders. Soon they will be drawn together by a horrifying connection between their discoveries—partnering to fight a deadly contagion as well as the government forces that know the truth about the fate of their daughter.
Award-winning author Benjamin Percy delivers both a gripping science fiction thriller and a dazzling examination of a planet—and a marriage—that have broken.
What’s Benjamin’s favorite bit?
If you’ve read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff or Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, you know how compelling and tense and real the he said/she said design of these novels can be. Here is one point of view, here is another, and they’re both warped and problematic and unreliable in such a way that the reader has to lean forward and play detective and act as the ultimate arbiter of truth in the relationship.
I wanted to play with a similar design, because I wanted to write the story of a marriage. A thriller, sure, but a love story. My last novel—The Ninth Metal—was panoramic, a wheeling ensemble that played out over several years. To keep things fresh at the keyboard, I decided to change things up with The Unfamiliar Garden. And go small. The novel is essentially a two-hander.
Nora and Jack have lost their daughter, Mia. She vanished the night the sky lit up with meteors—the debris of the comet that recently swung through the solar system. Their already fissured relationship cracks wide open, and they can’t hold on any longer. They divorce.
Fast forward a few troubled years later. Nora is a detective with the Seattle PD. Jack is a mycologist at University of Washington. She is chasing down clues as a series of ritualistic murders haunts the city. And he is investigating unprecedented new fungal growth. There is an unsettling connection between them, and their divided lives are brought together again through their work.
And the possibility that their daughter might still be alive.
He said. She said. He said. She said. We get each of their stories, which offer conflicting truths. But ultimately this is a story about broken things healing. It’s about—and here’s where the alien fungus plot element comes in—a gradual symbiosis, both literal and stylistic. So I thought it would be an interesting rhetorical experiment to go beyond the he said/she said and eventually crescendo into a they.
They is the point of view with which I conclude the story, because they—Nora and Jack—have become one again after a long time apart, a technical decision I made that will hopefully hurt some hearts.
The Unfamiliar Garden Universal Book Link
Benjamin Percy has won a Whiting Award, a Plimpton Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, an NEA fellowship, and the iHeartRadio Award for Best Scripted Podcast. He is the author of the novels The Ninth Metal, The Dark Net, The Dead Lands, Red Moon, and The Wilding, three story collections, and an essay collection, Thrill Me. He also writes Wolverine and X-Force for Marvel Comics. He lives in Minnesota with his family.