The Garden of Eden: Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany
The last time Eden saw her father there was blood everywhere. At ten years old, Eden was familiar with her father’s ups and downs. Her life was shaped by whether or not he chose to take his medication. He could be playful, creative, and charismatic, or he could be sullen, withdrawn, and moody. All the same, he was her father, and despite the pain of listening her parents’ arguments about his mental illness and lack of responsibility, she loved him. And she was not prepared to see his nearly lifeless body after he slit his wrists.
Twenty years later, Eden is a caterer with a history of bad romantic relationships, but a solid support network consisting of her dog Jasper, best friend Georgia, and her mom and step-brother. After her mother’s battle with cancer, Eden develops a renewed interest in finding her father. She received a few letters from him in her 20s, but ignored them, angry at his absence and lack of contact until that point. Years later she wants a chance to have her father back in her life again, but how can she find a man with a common name who she has not seen since she was a child, a man who lives in and out of homeless shelters and mental institutions or on the streets?
Eden begins tracking down her father by getting his picture out in hospitals and visiting shelters. She volunteers as a chef at Hope House, where she develops a rapport with the owner and the clients. Though Eden is able to unravel bits and pieces of the mystery surrounding her father’s life, the fact is that she still has no idea where he is or whether he is even dead or alive. Eden doesn’t know if she’ll ever be able to find her father, nor does she have any idea what she’ll say to him if she does.
Amy Hatvany’s Outside the Lines is narrated from multiple perspectives, Eden and her father’s, and from multiple points in time, Eden’s childhood and the present. Though one could easily imagine this becoming convoluted and disorienting, Hatvany skillfully guides the reader back and forth through the storyline without ever stumbling. The multiple layers of text heighten the suspense and build a more complex and thoughtful understanding of the characters’ struggles.
Eden’s father, David, is an artist who has always straddled the line between genius and madness. Like so many creative people, he often works best when not rooted firmly in reality. The medication that helps to control his moods and order his thought processes also inhibits his artistry, leaving him feeling dull and gray. David rebels against the societal pressure to “get well” and become like everyone else; he is happier living on the streets, making just enough money selling his artwork to pay for the occasional hotel room and the alcohol that helps quiet the voices in his head.
Hatvany’s portrayal of David’s mental illness, and his family’s struggle to accept it, pushes Outside the Lines well beyond the average book about a thirty-something struggling with daddy issues in order to develop healthier romantic relationships. David is indeed a character who is comfortable outside the lines; though he loves his family, he can never be true to himself and be the man they would like him to be. Hatvany’s narrative is thought-provoking, forcing readers to consider the choices they would make for themselves or their family members if they were put in Eden or David’s shoes. Ultimately, though, Outside the Lines transcends the question of to change or not to change, and instead begs acceptance of oneself and others as they are.
As a lover of food, dogs, art, romance, and fictionalized mental illness, Outside the Lines offers a little something to suit nearly all of my interests. Above all, I appreciate that Hatvany asks difficult questions and does not offer easy, tidy answers, making Outside the Lines both incredibly entertaining and mentally stimulating. It’s the complete package.