The Red Garden
The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman is a collection of linked short stories that take place over 200 years in Blackwell, a small town in rural Massachusetts. The story opens with the arrival of the first settlers, among them a young English woman, Hallie, with an iron will to survive and her older and at times utterly useless husband, William. Hallie makes an immediate and intense connection to the wilderness, and when that connection is severed due to tragic circumstances, she creates the red garden, a small, sorrowful plot of land that takes on an air of the sacred.
Each chapter in the novel moves forward but does not necessarily build upon the previous chapter. The stories follow the natural progression of the town of Blackwell from its founding in the 1750s to the present. There is a wide range of characters including placid bears, a band of nomadic horse traders, a woman who finds a new beginning in Blackwell, and the ghost of a young girl drowned in the river who becomes a town legend long after her name has been forgotten.
As time progresses, the characters in Hoffman's stories seem unaware of the connection they have to the town, their ancestors and the part the red garden plays in their lives. As the old stories and legends get lost the characters rediscover the red garden time and time again but why and how it exists remains a mystery. Among my favorites stories are "The bear's house" which sets the stage for the rest of the book by telling of the struggle of the town's founders and the iron will of Hallie Brady. "The truth about my mother" has a touch of sadness but is ultimately very uplifting. Last but certainly not least "The principles of devotion" is a story of unswerving loyalty and love that brought tears to my eyes.
As I read the last story in The Red Garden, I felt that Hoffman's message was that nobody's life is perfect. People are born, they live, love, experience loss and tragedy and through it all time simply moves forward.
~Amy, Adult Services