Review: The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

2017: 43
2.5 of 5 stars
Published January 2011

The Red Garden spans nearly 300 years telling the stories of the inhabitants of a small Massachusetts town, Blackwell. It’s really a series of connecting short stories about the descendants of the founding families, touching base every generation or 2 or 3. I had thought it would be a family saga, and it is, kind of, but on a higher level than I expected. You don’t really get to know the characters all that well because it covers so many of them over the years and it gets a bit more confusing to connect the characters to the original families as they intermarry and the names change.

Through it all is the garden, with red soil and where all the plants end up blooming and producing in various shades of red, including the old apple tree, the Tree of Life, that produced fruit during the year there was no summer, keeping the original inhabitants alive through a long, tough winter. Elsewhere, there is an element of magic, of the spirits, of folklore (Johnny Appleseed, the ghost of a child, a woman that may or may not be a mermaid).

I enjoyed the first story about the families that founded the town and the woman, Hallie, who was instrumental in keeping them all alive by hunting in the winter, and even milking a hibernating female bear. She lied and said she’d found a cow wandering. I wondered why the others didn’t ask her why she didn’t just bring the cow home? But I digress. Hoffman is a lovely writer but I’m afraid the characters and the stories felt more like snapshots. Though I liked a few of them, overall, they didn’t grab me. Perhaps it’s just that it wasn’t what I was expecting. I have read a couple of her books and I really enjoyed them so I think this is just an exception, for me. And only my opinion, of course. You may really like it.

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