Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Red Garden.
Hoffman’s latest novel is a successful melding of a colorful past bound to the crimson soil of an ancient garden that somehow relates to one or the other person and the hopes that inextricably unite their lives. The author's stage is the evolution of the town of Blackwell nestled deep in the Berkshires, where the weather is mysterious and the people are equally unpredictable.
Beginning on a wintry night in 1750, the first of several sections tells of the original families and their fight to survive on Hightop Mountain. Trapped between the western slope and the valley below, William Brady and his wife, Hallie, are driven by an incessant hunger; their will to endure and thrive symbolizes the humble, ramshackle beginnings of Bearsville.
Many of the founding families almost freeze to death, vacilating between
hopelessness and despair. Hallie - possessing an indelible faith far beyond her years - is able to fend for herself as she builds traps out of twigs and rope in the dead of winter. For Hallie, everything is a mystery and a revelation; every river, meadow and snowdrift is something to be tamed.
From the outset, each founding family places their stamp on future descendents. The years pass, and people stay. Lost in a snowstorm, a group of wanderers decide to make Bearsville their home. Soon the village's inhabitants are tending to fields of corn, wheat and beans
in the stifling heat of August, the fields always dry and hot.
Harry Partridge, son of one of the town’s founders, signs an edict for a yearly celebration honoring the intrepid Hallie Brady. The village is renamed Blackwell and becomes a place where decent, hard-working people live and work, and where love is as real as the grass in the river, as provident as the promises of kindness and care. People are born and others die; a dog pines for the loss of his owner, and
a little girl goes missing in the raging waters of Eel River, her ghost eventually becoming the stuff of legend.
Loyalty and love come in the form of two strong young men. Buoyed by their faith, they gift Blackwell the seeds of apple wood so that the villagers can enjoy “the tree of life." The red garden, ignored for years, grows into a wild tangle of thistle, the earth below always so reddish in color. Among the scarlet amaranth and stray crimson larkspur, each character who works and kneads this soil is given a new and unexpected gift.
In lyrical prose, the author examines nature's fresh bounty. Each successive generation must learn to balance life against death, the joy of love against the pain of regret. In this landscape, the singing meadowlarks and the swirling black flies are as relentless as the power of homespun village lore. Hoffman consistently charms us as she straddles her characters
across the various generations, their hopes and dreams becoming an essential part of the spiritual and natural worlds.