One of my bookmarks is printed with the quotation: “We lose ourselves in books. We find ourselves there, too.” Part of me is tempted to roll my eyes at this quaint proclamation, but mostly I have to admit that this contradictory experience is precisely what I seek when I read fiction – an escape from reality that will return me to my own life with a deeper understanding of myself and my world.
Jane Delury’s Hedge delivers exactly this. With writing so vivid and lush that you find yourself standing in a garden bed, smelling the metallic earth, scraping the silty loam from under your fingernails, you can easily lose yourself in the world of Hedge. The story is engaging, the outcome unexpected, and the protagonist, Maud, so deftly drawn, she could be your own sister or mother or best friend. As Maud navigates complicated questions related to desire, motherhood, and the ever-elusive balance that so many of us seek, you may, as I did, find something of yourself in the pages.
A native Californian who has lived in Baltimore since grad school at Hopkins, Jane comes to her second book on a wave of impressive acclaim. She was named the winner of the prestigious 2019 Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction for her 2018 debut novel-in-stories, The Balcony, and she’s also received a PEN/O. Henry Prize, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Story Award, a VCCA fellowship, and grants from the Maryland State Arts Council. A professor at the University of Baltimore, she teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts and directs the BA in English.
To read more about the plot of Hedge, check out early reviews at Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal. Launching next week, it has already has been selected as a top summer pick by both Oprah Daily and People magazine. Below, Jane offers Baltimore Fishbowl readers some insight into how the novel came to be.
Baltimore Fishbowl: Your protagonist, Maud, works as a landscape historian. I suspect I am not alone in having been totally ignorant of this career option until reading Hedge. What led you to this idea? Is there symbolism at play?
Jane Delury: Being a landscape historian is definitely a niche career, although it’s more common in England, where Maud trains. Like many writers, I think I give my characters professions that I find intriguing, perhaps ones I might have pursued in a different life. I’m interested in history and archeology, but I don’t think I have the patience for deep-bottomed scholarship or the exacting work of archeology, where you might dig test pits for months before finding a single nail.
Restoring a garden requires skills from both of those areas, but, well, you get to see plants growing pretty quickly! And I do love the metaphor of bringing a long dead garden back to life, so you’re right about symbolism. At the start of the novel, Maud is trying to bring herself back to life by separating from her husband and taking on an exciting project in the Hudson Valley. She gardens herself to personal freedom throughout the book from the Hudson Valley, to the Presidio in San Francisco, and finally on Alcatraz.
BFB: Could you talk about the research you did for all of the gardening and landscaping that occurs in the novel?
JD: I read a ridiculous amount of material about gardening and gardening history, about the history of the Hudson Valley and San Francisco. But to understand Maud, I needed to understand her world and her work. I spent a good amount of time early on learning about the vegetable garden at Monticello, where I had originally set part of the book, as well as the archeological digs investigating the homes and gardens of the enslaved gardeners on the mountain.
When I moved the location of the opening section to the Hudson Valley, I found another great team of people at Montgomery Place. I had a draft of the novel by then, and the director of horticulture, Amy Parella, literally walked the grounds with me, helping me set different scenes in appropriate locations. For instance, there was no hedge at Montgomery Place, so we found a reasonable spot to place one.
I did similar work for the garden Maud restores at the Presidio in San Francisco. That garden does not actually exist, but I worked with Kari Jones, an archeologist at the Presidio, to make my fiction credible. The novel is an amalgam of “real” history and these fictionalized approximations.
BFB: At first, it seems like this will be a novel about a woman finding new love after the disintegration of her marriage, but the plot leads readers in unexpected directions. Could you talk a bit (without spoilers!) about how the plot evolved?
JD: I knew early on that there would be a major shift in the middle of the novel, a surprise for Maud and for the reader—and since only trouble is interesting in fiction, not a good surprise! I was interested in the way we can see things one way as we experience them and then see them in a completely different light later. Maud thinks things are one way at Montgomery Place and finds, traumatically, that they are another. The second part of the book, on one level, is about her learning to trust her impulses and impressions again.
BFB: In many ways the emotional center of this book is the mother-daughter relationship. How did your own experiences as a mother of two daughters inform the writing of this novel?
JD: When I started to write Hedge, I was recently divorced and raising my two girls on my own, though with an excellent coparent. I worried about how my life choices would affect my children, so in Hedge, I was writing into my greatest fears. At the same time, I understood Maud’s desire for a different life and the belief that she could only be a good mother if she pursued it. I think this is a conundrum many people face, especially women.
BFB: Maud develops an intense friendship – what she even characterizes as an emotional affair – with an eccentric woman named Alice. Why did you include that relationship in the novel instead of having Maud involved in a romantic entanglement?
JD: From the start of Hedge, Maud is emotionally alienated in her marriage. At Montgomery Place, she finds a connection with Gabriel, the resident archeologist. When she’s back in the Bay Area, despite everything that has happened in the preceding two years (no spoilers!), she’s still on her own emotionally. Enter Alice. Alice is very different from Maud, but they share a love of landscape and nature and they start to hike together. I know many women who are more or less content in their partnerships but find their real sustenance in friendships with other women. I wanted to explore that phenomenon in the book. And I love Alice. I wish I had her as a friend myself.
BFB: You are married to the fiction writer, Don Lee. Did he have a role in your writing process? If so, what was that like?
JD: Don reads every word I write, and he read this manuscript more times than I want to count. (I read his drafts too so it’s fair, I say!) His notes had a huge influence on the book. He understood what I was trying to do from the first draft, and he’s an excellent editor. I’m lucky to have him one room over from me as I work, although I try to leave him alone on Sundays.
BFB: Hedge is published by a new imprint, Zibby Books. What has the process of working with a new press been like?
JD: Being with Zibby Books has been a wonderful adventure. The press is unique in the way it supports its authors and their books. Every step of the process with Hedge has involved so much care and attention, from the editing to the planning of my book tour. Zibby Books is more than a press, actually, it’s a community. The authors sustain each other and the team (they are truly a team) nurtures those connections. When Leigh Newman first acquired the manuscript, I had no idea that I would end up with so many new and talented friends. It’s been a beautiful thing.
Upcoming Baltimore Events for Hedge
Tuesday, June 6
6pm at The Ivy Bookshop
Tuesday, July 11
7pm at Greedy Reads