The Red Garden
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". . . a ride that you will never want to end."
There are many places tucked away in the East Coast hills. As you drive down the narrow blacktop roads that weave through Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts, small counties dot the historic landscapes. Old red barns bring color to the deep green pastures and the cows stare out at you from their fenced-in enclosures. These forgotten places are part of the snow-covered hills where explorers came for the first time. The settlers faced month after month of bitter cold, freezing winters that seemed to last forever (and still do), and brutal summers with humidity that would steal the oxygen from their lungs, drench them in sweat, and cover them with angry mosquitoes. Even with all this, settlers with strong backs and unbreakable spirits chose to make these distant, dark places their home – and generation after generation stayed rooted to the soil that was filled with their blood, sweat, and tears.
In this fantastic novel, Alice Hoffman takes readers into Berkshire County in the 1700’s when Hallie Brady, a mere seventeen year old who’d come to the United States from a wretched life in England and married William Brady, a man in his forties who, although nice, was a bit dim-witted and everything he touched seemed to fall apart in his hands, set out to explore the western wilds and ended up at the base of Hightop Mountain. The out-of-the-way location became Blackwell, Massachusetts – a small town completely cut off from the rest of the world. Hallie and William were leading an excursion of families that included the Motts, Starrs, and Partridges when the brutal winds and horrendous weather stranded them near Hightop. Those first months were thought to be the end for the families; they had nothing to eat and were literally freezing to death. Thankfully, Hattie was a survivor. She would not give up and crawl into a corner; she’d been through too much to simply lie down and give up. So with the pride and courage of a lion she walked through the snowstorm and found food, as well as a grizzly bear who gave warmth to the woman who wanted more than anything to survive.
The author takes us through various decades of life in Blackwell, with each new chapter dedicated to the next generation and the stories handed down to them by their forefathers who were now buried in the small town graveyard. The larks and swallows filled the sky, the scent of the apple trees filtered through the small shelters, and the garden created by Hattie Brady – the woman who wouldn’t say die – had red soil. It was always red, as if the heroine of the town had given up her flesh and blood to create a place that would feed the generations of Blackwell forever.
Going through the decades readers are given romantic, beautiful, funny, dramatic, and sometimes frightening stories of life. One focuses on Emily, a young girl who meets a blind man named Charles. He can not see the magnificent garden or even the warm home that surrounds him, but his voice holds no fear – only excitement – as he regales Emily with the story of the distant land that he still wishes to explore.
The Starr family who owned the Leatherworks in town who lost a daughter to the harsh natural elements is one very touching story. Although a dramatic tale, an apparition comes to life for the future townspeople that will forever lead them down the right path, or stop them from taking their own souls out of the world. A legend of the fisherman’s wife in the 1930’s is told, when a journalist looking for folklore comes across and falls in love with a fantastical woman who may not have been human at all. Delving into the war years of 1863 when the men had to suit up in Union blue, a romance is begun between two people who join hearts over the pain and suffering that has happened in their own lives. The 1940’s is covered, regaling the reader with the war overseas, that was taking Blackwell’s boys to a far away place filled with monsters of every kind.
Stories of strange beings hiding in the tall trees to a murderer trying desperately to save herself and her daughter by entering Blackwell and finding a new life, allow the reader to immerse themselves in the fantastic themes and storylines that Ms. Hoffman weaves so well. Readers will think back to the stories handed down by their own families, perhaps even pulling out the black and white photographs and remembering what the world was like before they came along. And, most of all, staring at their children and thinking about what the world will become as they grow up – hoping beyond hope that it is far easier on them then it was on the generation before.
Beginning with her first book, Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman has created one masterpiece after another, so it will come as no surprise to readers that she has once again written words that will make you feel a roller-coaster of emotions…a ride that you will never want to end. The Red Garden is not only a book created by a true artist, but it’s also a collection of tales that you will pass on to the next generation.
Reviewer: Amy E. Lignor