Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Red Garden.
I have been a fan of Hoffman’s wonderful prose since her first novel, Property Of, the language of imagination and intuition informing stories of surprising originality and insight - a dreamscape where characters often rise above the painful realities of their lives to embrace moments of love, forgiveness and understanding. In The Red Garden, place is as important as character: the as yet uninhabitable Bearsville of 1750, later, Blackwell, Massachusetts.
The first brave soul to conquer certain death from starvation or exposure among a group of settlers grown apathetic by their circumstances, young Hallie Brady eschews submission to the elements, determined to live even in this icy, unforgiving landscape. Hallie’s character sets the tone for these linked stories from 1750 to 1986: a hardy breed of people closely bound to the land; the bears whose warmth Hallie depends on to keep from freezing; and the “red garden,” with its rich soil and plethora of fruits, flowers and vegetables in every shade of that color so startling against the white snow of winter.
While blood flows freely on such demanding terrain, the garden is a reminder of lives steeped in history from one generation to another. The hardy stock replenishes itself as the early settlers pass along the stories and the courage not only to endure but to know moments of joy, hope, love and compassion. To be sure, nature is ruthless, the price of survival exacted on each generation. But Hoffman always mines the depths of the human heart: the unexpected kindness; a woman communing with a wild bear cub; the traveler who plants an apple tree that bears even in the dead of winter; the distant majesty of Hightop Mountain separating Blackwell from the rest of civilization.
Grounded in Hallie’s instinctive acceptance of the rigors and bounty of this wild country, the chapters bear fairy-tale titles hinting at the world to be explored, the dragons to be slain, life experienced but enriched, salted with human suffering, a young poet’s love for a blind man who shares his garden, a lonely widow and a Civil War veteran unmanned by his injury and diminished expectations, the little girl in a blue dress drowned years ago but appearing occasionally to those who can see her. There is a delicate balance between reality and the extraordinary, nature’s brutal beauty and the unexpected grace where love blooms, the weight of grief and a communion with purpose, each generation telling more stories, a magic garden suffused with every hue of red and the occasional transcendence of an epiphany. Hoffman sets the mind spinning, whisks away cynicism and whispers of the magic to be found when least expected.