Realizing that her relationship has run its course, Dawn leaves her boyfriend of five years, setting up house in a new place with daughter, Jewel, a two-story with a room to let downstairs. An exterminator-cum-artist by trade, Dawn must tame the weedy jungle that fills the backyard before she rents the unit, since the overgrowth blocks the entrance to the rental unit. Nine-year old Jewel is content however, tunneling through the wild growth, exploring.
For the last five years of their marriage, Harlan and Macie have pursued parenthood, a quest driven by Macie's intense yearning for a child. How-to videographer Harlan, who considers mid-thirties "middle-aged", has grown dissatisfied with their relationship and life in general. Enjoying a guy's-night-out with his business partner, Jason, Harlan meets the ethereal Sophie, a dancer barely surviving on a limited income from the small gigs her agent arranges.
Sophie offers Harlan an escape into romantic fantasy, her beauty and grace a powerful stimulant to the disenchanted Harlan, who is drawn farther into his daydreams of a new love. When Macie learns of the affair, Harlan answers Dawn's immediate need for a tenant. There Macie and Sophie meet accidentally, while Dawn and Harlan share intimate conversations about the direction of their lives, gardening beneath the light of the moon or in the early morning hours in their lush refuge, "The Night Garden.”
Although Dawn appears the main protagonist, the novel is really about Harlan's dilemma, the affair that consumes him and the derailment of his marriage, complete with soundtrack, the melodies of his youth that fill his distracted mind: "I fooled around and fell in love.” Harlan is in transition, complete with the emotional confusion that accompanies such upheaval, delighted to have found a friend in his landlady, the comforting young woman also undergoing a difficult change.
Where others experience the isolation of strangers in close quarters, Dawn and Harlan find camaraderie, creating an oasis of quasi-family/friendship. They forge new commitments to meet the challenges of the future and heal old wounds with forgiveness and reparation.
To be honest, this nice little story just manages to overcome the banality of the character's names and the predictability of their situations. But the author thoughtfully focuses on the ordinariness of such crises, the commonality of relationship breakups and their aftermath, the need to sort through the obvious disappointments that come at a certain age and the grace to adapt and move on.
In the end, everything fits perfectly into place, if realigned, couples coupled, all right with the world, neatly wrapped. It's all very well done, albeit within the comfortable parameters of Holm's simple plot, avoiding an excess of conflict.