A Manhattan garden of earthly delights

“The Common Garden,” by Martha Moffett.  Event Horizon Press. 200pp. $19.95.

More than three decades ago, while living and working in New York, Lake Worth resident Martha Moffett wrote a novel that was published by Berkley in 1977. Recently, she decided to give it a second life. “The Common Garden” holds up amazingly well in its smart portrayal of artists, intellectuals, and striving professionals during the hedonistic seventies. Here is the “Me decade” still wearing and exploiting the trappings (and perhaps the traps) of communalization that characterized the sixties. 

Without quite knowing what they’re getting into, Paul and Robin succeed in locating a summer rental to satisfy their desire to enjoy Manhattan while Paul continues building his career as a marketing professional. His wife Robin, a young woman without much experience of the world, is determined to use these few months to explore all that Manhattan has to offer: the museums and galleries, the theaters and recital halls, the distinctive neighborhoods. She is a naïf hankering after sophistication.  

The community of handsome brownstones in which they have found a temporary home is notable for its common garden, at once a protected plot for fruits and vegetables and flowers collectively grown and enjoyed, and another kind of garden – a garden of earthly delights and communally shared sexual partners. The couple has stumbled into a kind of collective farm or urban kibbutz of heightened sensuality, enhanced by hallucinogenic drugs, and safeguarded by a code of secrecy and a demand for loyalty. 

The novel’s focus is on Robin (Paul is often away on business or simply preoccupied with it), who has trouble reading the largely unarticulated code that governs behavior in this brave new world. At first hesitant – even fearful — about opening herself up to new intimate relationships, she gradually moves from the periphery toward the center of the group, enjoying along the way new and seductive knowledge of her body’s capacity for erotic pleasure.

Martha Moffett

Through Robin’s progress, Ms. Moffett suggests that there is much to be gained through casting off one’s inhibitions, through experimentation, and through increased self-knowledge. However, in the environment of the common garden, liberation paradoxically pushes up against threatening group-think. It’s a kind of yuppy, East Coast “Hotel California” that is “programmed to receive. / You can check-out any time you like, / But you can never leave!” [Pardon me, Eagles.]

When Hannah, the woman who has taken on the role of being Robin’s confidante and mentor, expresses some disillusionment with the pattern her life has taken, the reader’s antennae are raised. When Hannah is found dead, the antennae vibrate. . . .

To read the full review, along with biographical information on the author, as it appears in the December 28, 2011 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly, as well as other editions of the paper, click here: Florida Weekly – Moffett pdf 1 and here: Florida Weekly – Moffett pdf 2

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