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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Magic Garden

The Red Garden
Alice Hoffman
2011, Crown

A young wounded civil war solider is saved by a passionate neighbor, a woman meets a fiercely human historical character, a poet falls in love with a blind man, and a mysterious traveler 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. Interconnected stories link the pioneers who first made Blackwell their home to their descendants who still struggled with some of the same issues many years later.

The premise of the magical red garden weaves its way around the generations of Blackwell residents, most of whom are not happy in this small town. They spend most of their youth wishing they were somewhere else and most of their adulthood searching for something they missed out on when they were young. Some residents are new to the town and puzzled by its legends; other residents just accept their history for what it is – their town was started by pioneers who were snowed in and couldn’t travel any farther. Not much of a heritage, but that’s where the red garden comes in. The red garden is a place where things died and were born again to be something different, which is like the town and its inhabitants. Most of them didn’t really want to be there. In fact, some of the characters yearned to leave, but they always came back when a relative was dying or had died, and then they discovered something in the town that offered them a second chance.

There’s a bit of magic in this book, but it’s not as extreme as some of the author’s other books. She has a lyrical voice that weaves a connection between each story and each character together in ways the reader won’t fully realize until the end. I enjoyed this novel more than some of Hoffman’s more recent books, but not as much as her early works. The reading is not demanding, but it is thought-provoking and lasting. Fans of quiet, character-driven novels with a strong sense of place will particularly like this title.


Other titles you may enjoy:
In Case we’re Separated by Alice Mattison (2005)
A collection of thirteen connected short tales traces the multi-generational experiences of the women in the family of Bobbie Kaplowitz of 1950s Brooklyn, in a volume that explores such themes as identity, infidelity, and the inspiring or tormenting qualities of missed opportunities.

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (2007)
Having left her hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, fifteen years ago under troubling circumstances, Towner Whitney reluctantly returns after her eighty-five-year-old great-aunt Eva suddenly disappears.

After This by Alice McDermott (2006)
A portrait of an American family during the middle decades of the twentieth century evokes the social, spiritual, and political turmoil of the era as seen through the experiences of a middle-class couple and their children.

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