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The Red Garden: A Novel Kindle Edition
“[A] dreamy, fabulist series of connected stories . . . [These] tales, with their tight, soft focus on America, cast their own spell.”—The Washington Post
The Red Garden introduces us to the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts, capturing the unexpected turns in its history and in our own lives. From the town's founder, a brave young woman from England who has no fear of blizzards or bears, to the young man who runs away to New York City with only his dog for company, the characters in The Red Garden are extraordinary and vivid: a young wounded Civil War soldier who is saved by a passionate neighbor, a woman who meets a fiercely human historical character, a poet who falls in love with a blind man, a mysterious traveler who comes to town in the year when summer never arrives.
At the center of everyone’s life is a mysterious garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look.
Beautifully crafted and shimmering with magic, The Red Garden is as unforgettable as it is moving.
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-People, four stars
“[A] dreamy, fabulist series of connected stories... These... tales, with their tight, soft focus on America, cast their own spell.”
-The Washington Post
"Hoffman’s writing is so beautiful it’s almost painful to read... Hoffman makes the magic she writes about feel so real, as though I could at any moment, find myself in the town of Blackwell and the mysterious garden that bears only red fruit."
-Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters
“The Red Garden is recommended to readers who enjoy, in addition to beautiful prose, magical realism and different narrators over time... Alice Hoffman is an author not to be missed.”
-Historical Novels Review
"Alice Hoffman, herself a shining star among American novelists, possesses the stunning ability to express the numinous in the most prosaic language. Somehow, without elaborate wordplay, she manages to communicate a yearning interpretation of the life we all live, opening the reader’s eyes to the otherworldly riddles that make things appear just a trifle askew—when we notice them, that is. And Alice Hoffman certainly notices them. One secret of her ongoing appeal, year after year, book after book, is her keen perception. And in The Red Garden, Hoffman delivers a body of stories that explores the depths of reality as well as its enduring quirkiness."
"In gloriously sensuous, suspenseful, mystical, tragic, and redemptive episodes, Hoffman subtly alters her language, from an almost biblical voice to increasingly nuanced and intricate prose reflecting the burgeoning social and psychological complexities her passionate and searching characters face in an ever-changing world."
-Booklist, starred review
"Hoffman has done it again, crafting a poignant, compelling collection of fairy tales suffused with pathos and brightened by flashes of magic. Her fans, as well as those of magical realism in general, will be enchanted."
-Library Journal, starred review
"Fans of Hoffman’s brand of mystical whimsy will find this paean to New England one of her most satisfying."
"The novel moves forward in linked stories, each building on (but not following from) the previous and focusing on a wide range of chracters....The result is a certain ethereal detachment as Hoffman’s deft magical realism ties one woman’s story to the next even when they themselves are not aware of the connection. The prose is beautiful, the characters drawn sparsely but with great compassion."
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The town of Blackwell, Massachusetts, changed its name in 1786. It had been called Bearsville when it was founded in 1750, but it quickly became apparent that a name such as that did little to encourage new settlers. True, there were nearly as many black bears in the woods then as there were pine trees, but there were also more eel in the river than there were ferns sprouting on the banks. You could stick your hand into the murky green shallows and catch half a dozen of the creatures without using bait. If you ventured in waist-high you’d be surrounded in moments. Yet no one considered calling the village Eelsville, even though people ate eel pie on a regular basis and many of the men in town wore eelskin belts and boots. They said wearing eel made them lucky at cards, but when it came to the rest of life, love for instance, or business acumen, they had no luck at all.
The town’s original name was always discussed and remembered in August, a dry yellow month when the grass was tall and bears ate their fill of blueberries on Hightop Mountain, a craggy Berkshire County landmark that separated Blackwell from the rest of the world. August was the time when the festival to commemorate Hallie Brady was held, but those who thought she’d been born in that month were mistaken. In fact, she had been born in Birmingham, England, on the sixteenth of March into unhappy circumstances. An orphan, long on her own, she’d been forced to find employment at a hatmaker’s at the age of eleven. It was an unsavory situation that included more than merely fashioning hatbands out of black ribbon. The factory owner lurked close by, running his hands over Hallie’s pale, freckled skin as though he owned her. She bided her time. She was the sort of person ready to face the wilderness, a young woman certain she had nothing more to lose. When compared to her childhood, all the hardships of the Berkshires added up to heaven, despite the deep, nearly endless winters.
Even in the heat of summer, when there were mosquitoes skimming over the surface of the river and bees bumped against windowpanes, people looked out at Hightop and shivered. Not everyone was as brave as Hallie Brady, and the local people who followed the founders knew how killing the darkest months in these parts could be. They wondered how the first settlers had managed to survive that initial winter, when there were bears in every tree and the snowdrifts were said to be as tall as a man. Before Hallie and the settlers arrived, the far side of Hightop was unpopulated. The native people who camped nearby vowed that no man would ever find happiness west of the mountain. Hunters never crossed into that territory even though the woods were filled with wolves and fox. There were red-tailed hawks, deer, squirrels, and more bears than anyone could count. Still they stayed away. They believed some places were forbidden, and that men were no more the kings of all things than the bees that swarmed over the mountain in midsummer.
William Brady headed the first expedition. He decided that he needed a wife before he set into the wild, western parts of Massachusetts, a ready partner to help carry the weight of the journey. He met Hallie in Boston a month after her arrival, and before another month had passed they said I do and started out west. Hallie had been fending for herself ever since leaving England. William was the first man to ask her for her hand, and she quickly agreed. She didn’t believe in romance, but she did have faith in her own future. He was forty, she was seventeen. He had already failed at everything he had tried; she hadn’t yet begun to live. Hallie had the impression that the marriage was a mistake on their wedding night, spent at a raucous inn near Boston harbor. William had done his husbandly business, then had dropped into a deep, twitchy sleep. He hadn’t uttered a single word during their lovemaking. Soon Hallie would realize she should have been grateful for that, but on that night she seemed absurdly alone, considering she was a newly married woman.
William had a single virtue. He was an excellent salesman. He had sold Hallie on the notion of their marriage, and soon afterward he managed to convince three other families to travel with them out west. There was safety in numbers, especially when heading across the mountains. The Motts and the Starrs signed on, along with the Partridges, who had a young son named Harry. Hallie quickly began to suspect she had married a confidence man. In fact, William Brady was running from debtor’s prison and a long list of failed projects that included bilking people of their earnings. He convinced the three other families to pay for everything they’d need to set out: the horses, the mules, the dried meat, the flour, the cornmeal. In exchange, William would lead the way. He said he had experience, but in fact he had never been farther west than Concord. He led them in circles for the full month of October, a foolish time to start out across uncharted land, fumbling through the wilderness until an early blinding snowstorm stopped their progress. They had just scrambled over Hightop Mountain when the bad weather overtook them. Where they hunkered down, in the valley below, marked the beginning of Bearsville.
The first person who spotted a bear was six-year-old Harry Partridge. Winter had still not fully arrived, yet there was already snow on the ground. They had been living like gypsies as the men tried their best to build a real shelter. Harry shouted for them to leave their work on the rickety log house and had them run down to the meadow to see. The men laughed when they spied a leafy squirrel’s nest up in the tree, which might have easily looked like a vicious beast to a boy from Boston.
From then on, that spot was known as Harry’s Bear.
Go right past Harry’s Bear and you’ll find the stack of wood, they would say to each other after that. Make a left at Harry’s Bear and head for the creek.
Such unconscionable teasing always made Harry’s face flush. But he was not the only one who feared bears. The women—Rachel Mott, Elizabeth Starr, and Susanna Partridge, Harry’s mother—were nervous when darkness fell. Food had been stolen from the wooden storehouse. They’d heard things rustling in the woods when they went to collect chokeberries, the last of the season’s, barely enough to keep them alive. They saw footprints that were monstrously large in the muck near the river. No wonder they had trouble sleeping at night, even after they moved into the poorly built shelter where they could never stay warm. An ashy fire was kept burning day and night, airing through a hole in the roof. Smoke turned their faces and feet black, and several times they almost froze to death. They woke in the mornings with crusts of ice in their hair and on their clothes. They might have starved as well, despairing over everything that had happened in their lives since they’d had the misfortune to meet William Brady, if Hallie hadn’t made her way down to the river one day, driven by hunger and fury. She could not believe how helpless her stranded group was. None of the men were skilled hunters. They knew little about survival. She felt they had all been bewitched by the mountain, ready to lie down on their straw pallets, close their eyes, and give up the one life on earth they’d been granted.
Hallie went out on her own. She tramped over the frozen marshes, ignoring the patches of briars. When she got to the riverside, she took a rock and smashed through the skim of ice over the water. Then with her bare hands she reached into the blackness and collected a potful of eels for a stew. They wriggled and fought, the way eels do, but because of the cold they were in a half sleep and Hallie easily won the fight. She had come all the way from England and she didn’t intend to die her first winter out, not on the western side of this high dark mountain. After that, she built traps out of twigs and rope and, with Harry beside her, began to catch rabbits in the meadow. It was November by then, and above the mountain the sky turned a luminous blue late in the day, like ink spilling out on a page. Hallie and Harry could see their breath puffing into the air as they traipsed through the woods. They could hear the rabbits scrambling underneath the traps when they were caught. It was true; rabbits cried. They sounded like children, shivering and lost. Harry felt sorry for the rabbits and wanted to keep them as pets, but Hallie patiently explained that a pet was of no use to a dead person. Without food, they would all be lost.
- ASIN : B004J4WL6O
- Publisher : Crown; Reprint edition (January 25, 2011)
- Publication date : January 25, 2011
- Language : English
- File size : 2904 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 306 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #45,363 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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The book is magically and beautifully written, and stayed with me long after I finished reading it.
The book is indeed interlocking vignettes connected by themes, motifs, family ties between the characters, and one small town. You don't actually need to keep track of all the family connections since the specifics aren't necessary to follow any of the stories (and I think this is where a lot of reviewers are getting stuck). It's enough to just let it rest in the back of your mind that many of these people are related. So I don't think it's as hard to follow as many are making it out to be. In a way, the structure reminded me of Alan Moore's Voice Of The Fire, but the tone is completely different- much gentler, much brighter, much more wholesome.
The writing itself is very nice. It evokes emotion very well in a gentle, empathetic way. The imagery, setting, and characters are vivid.
If you want escapism or if you don't want to be reminded that bad things happen, this book isn't for you. If wholesomeness to you requires adhesion to strict conservative Christian values or something of the sort, this book also isn't for you. But if you're looking for reassurance that life will go on and you will heal despite bad things happening, then this may be the book for you.
I have yet to find an Alice Hoffman book that has not enchanted me from beginning to end. Thankful to add this to my ever-growing collection of Alice Hoffman's works!
Written by Alice Hoffman, this is the intriguing story of people who lived in a very small town in the Berkshires in Massachusetts—from its founding 300 years ago to today. Even Johnny Appleseed and Emily Dickinson have roles in this town's history. This is a novel, but each chapter is really a short story with a distinct beginning, middle, and end, yet each is connected with the others through shared characters and a mysterious garden where sorrows are buried. In this enigmatic garden, which has distinctly red soil, only red plants will grow. If they're not naturally red, then they turn red.
This novel-short story hybrid is not the easiest format for a writer or a reader, but Hoffman is an expert, and each chapter seamlessly moves into the next for a compelling and engaging book. The story is held together with tall tales and legends of the past (but we readers know what really happened!) and secrets that are slowly revealed. There is love and heartbreak, births and deaths, struggle and survival, hurting and healing, evil and virtue, fear and courage, apparitions and reality. This is a powerful, compassionate story of life.
Meanwhile, the descriptions of the blizzards, the black flies, and the eels swimming in the river are so vivid you'll feel the cold, hear the buzzing, and see the black oozing in the water as it rapidly flows downstream.
If you're looking for a literary treat, indulge in this enchanting novel.