Friday, August 5, 2011

The Red Garden - Review

Title:  The Red Garden
Author:  Alice Hoffman
Publisher:  Shaye Areheart Books

Goodreads Summary:

The Red Garden introduces us to the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts. 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.
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, the characters in The Red Garden are extraordinary and vivid: a young wounded Civil War soldier who is saved by a neighbor, a woman who meets a fiercely human historical character, a poet who falls in love with a blind man, a mysterious traveler who comes to town in the year when summer never arrives. At the center of everyone’s life is a garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look. The Red Garden is as unforgettable as it is moving.

My thoughts:

Not my favorite book by Hoffman.  I am a huge fan of magical realism in books, I love how authors can write a bit of fanciful magic into a realistic book.  I think that is how life should be, everyday viewed with a bit of wonder.  On this level, The Red Garden delivered.  On others, I was left a little wanting more.

The story in this book flows through time like the novel's Eel River, hopping from one generation to the next, with one character being somehow related to another in a previous chapter, whether it is niece, great-grandaughter, etc.  Some of the stories I really enjoyed - the story with Johnny Appleseed, and the girl and the "monster" were my two favorites.  I am going to say this for those out there who are like me, and can't stand when animals in books die- there are many deaths of beloved animals in this book.  One story in particular, reminiscent of the Greyfriar's Bobby, killed me.  I couldn't stand it, and I couldn't figure out why Hoffman kept throwing this heartwrenching animal stuff into the book. I also mentioned I was left wanting - the stories were short stories, and by the time you felt connected to a character, their particular story was over.  I felt robbed in these instances. 

As for recommending it?  If you are not a Hoffman fan already, this is not a good one to start with.  It is not her best work, in my opinion, and while you can get a sense of her style, it is lacking.  If I didn't already like her, I would never have finished this book.  I saw glimpses of the Hoffman I liked, but it was not enough.

This book, like The Kitchen House, to me was about love in all its forms, good, bad, ugly. More than anything, that is what I took away.  The characters were imperfect, yet they all loved one thing more than anything in the world. 

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