Wednesday, May 4, 2011

So Good

Book Reviewed: The Red Garden, by Alice Hoffman

Lately, I've been talking a lot about books that are written really well.  Books like Mrs. Dalloway or The Moviegoer.  There are a lot of books that are made by their tight prose or luscious descriptions.  But sometimes I don't care about any of that stuff.  Sometimes I just want to be told a good story.  That's why I read writers like Neil Gaiman or Stephen King.  I want to be entertained, to be taken away from real life for a little while.  Last week, I was pining for a good story. 

Oh man, did I find one.  Or in this case, a whole bunch of them.  My librarian friend posted a review of Alice Hoffman's The Red Garden a few weeks ago, and the book shot straight to the top of my to-read list.  I love books set in very specific places, so when I saw that Hoffman's newest book was about the history of a fictional Massachusetts town, I knew it was for me.  I am so very glad I picked this book up to read.  I loved the pants off of it.

The Red Garden is a novel told through a series of short stories that read almost like fairy tales.  The first story takes place when the town is founded in 1750, and the last story takes place in the present.  The stories explore the lives of the people living in Blackwell, Massachusetts in all the years in between.  Hoffman is something of a magical realist, and this book takes up that mantle in very subtle ways. The townspeople, many of whom have ties back to the town's founding, live lives seemingly touched by mystical forces.  But as my friend points out in her wonderful review (seriously, click on the link above and read it), these things don't solely define their lives.  This book is about the human condition, as cheesy as that sounds.  It's about people losing themselves and finding themselves.  There's tragedies and celebrations; happy endings and sad.  There are several very moving love stories, as well as some touching stories about finding family in unexpected places.  The Red Garden has something for everyone.

I have the feeling I'm going to be recommending this book all over the place in the coming months.  I really, really enjoyed it.  It completely took me out of my own stressful life and made me really care about its characters.  I only finished it a couple days ago, and I already want to pick it up and start reading it again.  That's some of the highest praise I can give a book.


  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! You know, I had never put two and two together and realized Hoffman is a bit of a magical realist. I generally dislike magical realism, so enjoying this book was particularly good for me and my reading horizons! Maybe once the book eventually comes out in paperback it can be a book club choice?

  2. Actually, we have so many copies of it in my library system we could use it for a book club choice in the coming months. I'll definitley be bringing it up at our next meeting.