Saturday, October 29, 2011
The town of Blackwell is located in western Massachusetts tucked into the Berkshire mountains. The novel follows the history of the town from its first inhabitants in 1750 until the present. The reader watches as the female founder struggles against the brutal weather to establish a homestead. You see years later how her descendants fought in the Civil War, WWII, and eventually in Vietnam. Many of the families from the original settlement are still in town over two hundred years later and have now intermarried with other founding families. Of course there are new people who come into the town and older members pass on, but the structure of the sleepy township has stood the test of time.
If you’re looking for a novel with several main characters, a firm plot, and a definitive ending…then you should pass on this. However, if you’re a fan of “Our Town” or novels about community…then you just have a new favorite read. Similar to “The Blackbird House”, which follows one house over two hundred years, “The Red Garden” details the growth of a town and its development. Throughout the years the reader meets Johnny Appleseed, experiences the death of a young girl, connects with gypsies along a riverbank, feels the sadness of outcasts, the courage of strong women, and the resilience of a community and way of life.
What puts this novel behind my favorite work of hers, are some of the individual stories. While most of them were fascinating, it seemed that many (too many in my opinion) centered around a strong woman who finds love in an unsuspected place and triumphs over her ghosts and the narrow-minded town. As a strong woman, of course I enjoy reading stories about woman like myself, yet it got a bit overdone when this is the plot of almost every story. Additionally, I thought that the novel was supposed to show the development of the community but stories that focused on the uppity and cliquey residents of Blackwell seemed to prove that the town didn’t actually change of time. This was disappointing for it was like reading an entire book and finding that the main character was exactly the same at the conclusion as s/he was in the beginning. Would I recommend this book, yes, but not as much as her previous novel.