Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Red Garden

"The Red Garden" by Alice Hoffman is a compilation of short stories which capture the history of the residents of Blackwell, Massachusetts covering a span of nearly 300 years. Each story is inexorably linked to the previous through the familial ties of the town's residents who are descendants of the courageous young British woman, Hallie Brady, that founded Bearsville in 1750 (changed to Blackwell in 1786).

Each story is magical, each a little fairy tale in its own right. From Eight Nights of Love which tells the tale of Johnny Appleseed's visit to Blackwell, and how he plants the Tree of Life in the center of town. A tree that blooms even during a snow storm, and which goes on to feed a starving town during a famine. To The Fisherman's Wife requiring the biggest stretch to your imagination, centering around a young beautiful woman rumored by the town gossip to be a mermaid. Each tale of family, love or loyalty, tug on your hearstrings, for me none more so than The Principles of Devotion, a beautiful tale of the love and devotion, even after death, between a dog and his owner. This brief passage is an example of the haunting beauty found in this particularly touching tale:

"They say that dogs may dream, and when Topsy was old, his feet would move in his sleep. With his eyes closed he would often make a noise that sounded quite human, as if greeting someone in his dreams. At first it seemed that he believed Sara would return, but as the years went by I understood that his loyalty asked for no reward, and that love comes in unexpected forms. His wish was small, as hers had been -- merely to be beside her."
I plowed through the "The Red Garden" and found each story to be beautiful and moving. My two favorites were The Principles of Devotion, as mentioned above, and The Truth About My Mother. My one complaint would be the abrupt end to the story, and the seemingly missing chapter which could've put a proverbial bow on the novel as a larger whole.