THE RED GARDEN
By Alice Hoffman
Published by: The Crown Publishing Group / a Division of Random House, Inc. / New York / www.crownpublishing.com
First Printing: 2011
Concept: “The Red Garden" introduces us to the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts, capturing the unexpected turns in its history and in our own lives.
In exquisite prose, Hoffman offers a transforming glimpse of small town America, presenting us with some three hundred years of passion, dark secrets, loyalty, and redemption in a web of tales where characters’ lives are intertwined by fate and by their own actions.
From the town’s founder, a brave young woman from England who has no fear of blizzards or bears, to the young man who runs away to New York City with only his dog for company, the characters in the Red Garden are extraordinary and vivid; a young wounded Civil War soldier who is saved by a passionate neighbor, a woman who meets a fiercely human historical character, a poet who falls in love with a bland man, a mysterious traveler who comes to town in the year when summer never arrives.
At the center of everyone’s life is a mysterious garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look.
Beautifully crafted, shimmering with magic, The Red Garden is as unforgettable as it is moving.”
Review: The only book I’ve read by this author was Blackbird House which I really enjoyed. This book reads very much like Blackbird House. Both books are a series of stories told over the years and in each story, there is a common denominator from a previous story until the story builds over and over and over again.
One thing I’d like to start out by saying is that Ms. Hoffman creates extremely strong female characters. I think I love that the best about this author. She’s done that in both of the books that I have read and then too in Practical Magic (I only saw the movie, haven’t read the book). These women go through real tragedies, such as losing a child, being married to a man you don’t love, keeping a family fed, even lesbianism. That’s not to say that the men in the book aren’t strong, they are – and the stories are equally as touching for men.
Behind the stories is the town of Blackwell and the Red Garden. Some of Ms. Hoffman’s best writing describes the mountains, the forest, the Eel River and the town itself including it’s museum and town bar. The stories start in the beginnings of the town (and the language in the book is more soft and frontier-like). As the town grows, the language subtly changes when, by the end of the book, the language becomes almost harsh in it’s contemporary style. There was an “f” bomb dropped in the book and it shocked me because I wasn’t expecting it. The word was used for the first time during a rape scene and it made it that much more shocking. It was an excellent way to get the reader to feel the book. I was impressed.
The Red Garden was a garden at the home of one of the town’s descendants. The earth was blood red and every plant, be it a lilac or a green bean, turned red. It was in this garden that one of the strong women we talked about earlier had buried her newborn baby son and, later, an old bear that she had befriended. All the dogs in the town were collies. There was an apple tree that Johnny Appleseed himself was rumored to have plated the first tree that bore fruit even in winter. There’s the ghost of a girl in a blue dress. There’s a sad story about a poetic “monster” in the woods. There’s more, a lot more.
What I liked: I love the power of words in a good author’s hands and for the reasons I described above, I think that Ms. Hoffman is brilliant with her hands. The way this story built upon its stories was really a pleasure to be a part of.
What I disliked: I would have liked a moral to the story. I guess that sometimes in life there never is and as I recall, that was one of my complaints about Blackbird House as well. Maybe I’m not sophisticated enough to get it. I just can’t help but feel that maybe I needed to be lead a little more to the drinking trough.
My rating: 4 Stars
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