Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

This book is actually a collection of short stories. Although all the stories take place in the same town and characters are connected through genealogy - each chapter is its own entity.

Moving chronologically through time, The Red Garden, begins with the founding of Blackwell, Massachusetts and moves up to the present. Each chapter (or story) jumps forward in time so as you meet new characters, you watch the town of Blackwell develop. That is actually the most fascinating aspect of this collection - how the town grows and changes as the book goes on. You see how real events become town folklore as time goes by, how names of places change over time, and how events that felt so significant in the moment fade from generation to generation.

I liked the town better than most of the people in it. I found some characters simply uninteresting and wasn't vested in their stories. At times I felt the stranger aspects of the stories (because nothing is totally simple with a Hoffman character) to be forced and uncomfortable. The narrative gets a little inconsistent too as we move into modern times. The greatest character is, in fact, the red garden itself, which sits in the back of the Founders' House and survives throughout the entire arc of time. The garden seems to hold some magic infused into it by the heavy emotions, Hallie, one of the founders, experienced while living there. Characters' interactions with the garden felt the most powerful.

Mostly, this was an interesting book about all that one town can survive - tragedies, heartaches, miracles, love, and families - and for that this is a pretty good book.

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