The Red GardenBook - 2011
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Alice Hoffman is known for her character-driven stories that have elements of ‘magic realism’ – her characters might know what you dream, have an unnaturally hot touch, or might see how you will eventually die. In The Red Garden, the character that is mystical is actually the town of Blackwell, Massachusetts, and the founding families who have dwelt there through generations. The novel is actually a series of short stories each revolving around the town, in different periods. The first is set in 1750, the year the town was a settlement and 17-year old Hallie Brady saved the settlers from starving during the winter. She named the field Dead Husband’s Meadow, and protected the bears on Hightop Mountain. Such are the ways local legends are born. The next ‘chapter’ is set in 1792, a generation later, when a mystical man named John Chapman came to town, and planted an apple orchard – a variety that became known as the Blackwell Look-No-Further, it was so delicious. He camped in a part of town called Husband’s Meadow and loved all of nature. He also left behind a baby, the great-grandchild of Hallie, and a distinct love of nature that subsequent generations would inherit. And so it goes: Husband's Meadow becomes Band's Meadow, the descendants of Blackwell's settlers find love, loss, ghosts and belonging, and become legends to their own descendants. This novel, similar to Hoffman's Blackbird House, is a gem for readers who like tracing genealogy, or witnessing a town's historical microcosm develop, grow and change throughout time. Blackwell cannot isolate itself from world events, the Civil War, and World Wars touch it's citizen's lives, but the town below Hightop Mountain survives; the black eels in the river and black bears on the mountain sustaining, protecting and teaching each generation - in its own context - about life.
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