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Wayne State University Press

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Garden for the Blind

Kelly Fordon

Award Winner

Fiction, Detroit

Made in Michigan Writers Series

Published: April 2015
ISBN: 9780814341049
Pages: 256 Size: 5.5 x 8
Published: April 2015
ISBN: 9780814341056
Pages: 256 Size: EPUB

Kelly Fordon’s profound and deeply moving stories ask how you deal with the unbearable truths of your life: the missteps and missed chances. [They] are at once unsentimental and tender and you won’t forget them.

— Gloria Whelan

In Garden for the Blind, trouble lurks just outside the door for Kelly Fordon’s diverse yet interdependent characters. As a young girl growing up in an affluent suburb bordering Detroit, Alice Townley witnesses a tragic accident at her parents’ lavish party. In the years that follow, Alice is left mostly in the care of the household staff, free to forge friendships with other pampered and damaged teens. When she and her friend Mike decide to pin a crime on another student at their exclusive high school, the consequences will reverberate for years to come.

Set between 1974 and 2012, Fordon’s intricately woven stories follow Alice and Mike through high school, college, and into middle age, but also skillfully incorporate stories of their friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers who are touched by the same themes of privilege, folly, neglect, and resilience. A WWII veteran sleepwalks out of his home at night, led by vivid flashbacks. A Buddhist monk is assaulted by a robber while seated in meditation. A teenaged girl is shot walking home from the corner store with a friend. A lifelong teacher of blind children is targeted by vandals at the school she founded.

Garden for the Blind visits suburban and working-class homes, hidden sanctuaries and dangerous neighborhoods, illustrating the connections between settings and relationships (whether close or distant) and the strange motivations that keep us moving forward. All readers of fiction will enjoy the nimble unfolding of Fordon’s narrative in this collection.

Prior to writing fiction and poetry, Kelly Fordon worked at the NPR member station in Detroit and for National Geographic magazine. Her fiction, poetry, and book reviews have appeared in The Boston Review, The Florida Review, Flashquake, The Kenyon Review, and various other journals. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, On the Street Where We Live, which won the 2011 Standing Rock Chapbook Contest, and Tell Me When It Starts to Hurt, which was published by Kattywompus Press in 2013. She received her MFA in fiction writing from Queens University of Charlotte and works for InsideOut Literary Arts in Detroit as a writer-in-residence.

The rich are different from you and me . . . as Kelly Fordon so movingly conveys in her unflinching look at the lives of wealthy white auto executives and their families in the paradisaical suburbs that surround an ever-decaying inner-city Detroit in the waning decades of the twentieth century and the start of the new millennium. Fordon's beautifully rendered stories chart the terrible tensions created by polarities in race, gender, and social class and the efforts of one young woman in particular to transcend those divides and figure out what it means to be a moral human being.

– Eileen Pollack, former director of the master of fine arts program at University of Michigan and author of Breaking and Entering

Garden for the Blind is one of the most intricately and beautifully constructed works of fictions I’ve read. It’s a gem made of many facets. It is full of characters and interiors—both physical and psychological—that are so fully realized they are impossible to think of strictly on the page. They love, and exist, and this is both an intense and page-turning adventure and a work of stories, over which you will linger, with awe at the precision and grace of its sentences and images. Kelly Fordon is a writer to admire, and to keep an eye on, and this work is one I’m never going to forget.

– Laura Kasischke, author of Mind of Winter and Eden Springs (Wayne State University Press, 2010)

Kelly Fordon’s profound and deeply moving stories ask how you deal with the unbearable truths of your life: the missteps and missed chances. Fordon’s characters have to navigate a world of cynical politics and easy drugs. They long for their own identity but are lost in the demands the world makes of them. They want a set of rules in which to live their lives of easy comfort and killing neighborhoods. These stories are at once unsentimental and tender and you won’t forget them.

– Gloria Whelan, National Book Award winner and author of Living Together (Wayne State University Press, 2013), which received the 2014 IPPY Silver Medal Award

Each of Kelly Fordon's stories is perceptive, memorable, and moving—but taken together, they compose something far more significant: a tragicomic elegy for American youth as we knew it in the late twentieth century. I loved this book, and I will be haunted by its recurring characters for some time to come.

– Julia Glass, author of And the Dark Sacred Night and National Book Award – winning Three Junes

A strikingly atmospheric and psychologically acute collection of linked stories about the long-lasting reverberations of a childhood accident.

– Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation

In Garden for the Blind, Kelly Fordon has situated her stories such that they dazzle with the immediacy of deeply felt life even as together they awe with the epic sweep of a life lived. Whether set in Greater Detroit, the Caribbean, or the Great Lakes region of northern Ohio, each story finds its peculiar curiosity in the midst of blight and rends the reader’s heartstrings with the love the character has for it. An unforgettable first collection.

– Daniel Mueller, author of Nights I Dreamed of Hubert Humphrey and How Animals Mate

Garden for the Blind is a more idiosyncratic book than one might realize after a cursory read, a provocative and unconventional meditation on privilege, fate, and the city of Detroit. Kelly Fordon’s debut in full-length fiction is a collection of closely interlinked short stories that follow a small cast of characters from childhood to middle age. One of the satisfactions of reading linked-story collections is the sensation, a bit like time travel, of being guided through someone’s life by someone (think Ebenezer Scrooge and the Christmas ghosts) who knows all the most important moments to show you.

– Tyler Baldwin, The Common

Grosse Pointer Kelly Fordon has authored a tremendous, beautifully written book. . . Garden for the Blind is a must-read for contemporary society, a kaleidoscope of the human condition.

– Carrie Cunningham, Grosse Pointe Magazine

Garden for the Blind is a unique and constantly engaging collection of linked stories in which we are richly rewarded by a greater scope and a larger sense of the generations in play in this entertaining array of fictions. This book is a true joy to read, and a wonderful debut.

– Fred Leebron, professor of English at Gettysburg College and author of In the Middle of All This

Simply written, these stories reveal how easy it is to be misunderstood and how difficult it is to reconcile past mistakes.

– Kirkus Reviews, Kirkus Reviews

In Kelly Fordon’s new collection, Garden for the Blind, place predominates. That place is economically challenged Detroit and the affluent suburbs that surround the city. The race and class challenges afforded by having people of vastly different means living in close proximity are at the center of the book. . . . As in life, there are no perfect endings. Fordon tackles the messy, complex truth about race and class in her interesting stories.

– Ellen Birkett Morris, Best New Fiction

In her new collection, Garden of the Blind, Fordon has mastered that difficult art of writing stories that stand alone but that also share characters, places, and incidents to form something that feels almost like an episodic novel. She has meticulously constructed the chronology of her characters' lives through forty years of development, from 1974 to 2014. That may be the reason that this collection feels so satisfying. When we read short stories we often feel as if we've looked through a small window at one tiny moment of the characters' lives. Here, we get to do that and then also get to see other moments through other windows.

– Keith Taylor, Ann Arbor Observer

Literary Hub's "The Best Short Stories from the Heart of the Country"

Also from Wayne State University Press comes "Garden for the Blind." These interconnected stories are set in Detroit in the years 1974-2012. Here, too, we see children of relative affluence damaged by their surroundings and feel the visceral contrasts between prosperous suburbs and dangerous neighborhoods. A rash decision made by Alice Townley and her friend Mike haunts the pair for decades, and its consequences reverberate well beyond their families and friends to strangers. Neglect is an important theme, and Fordon makes clear how vital it is that we take care of each other. Despite the comforts and protection money ostensibly offers, teens are vulnerable to the indifference of their parents. The title story is especially exquisite. In it, vandals destroy a garden at a school for the blind. A monk who lives across the street, a divorced man who has lost both wife and children, struggles to understand how to rise above those who do damage. Once again, the lines between privileged and poor are crossed only through the heart.

– Donna Baer Stein, Literary Hub

  • 2015 Foreword Reviews INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards - Result: Finalist in the Short Stories category
  • 2015 Midwest Book Awards - Result: Finalist in the category of Short Story Fiction
  • 2016 Michigan Notable Book Awards - Result: 1 of 20 selected annually
  • 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards - Result: Bronze Medal in the Short Story Fiction Category
  • 2016 Eric Hoffer Book Awards - Result: Finalist