The Red Garden is what 100 Years of Solitude sounds like in a Yankee accent, and what it looks like set in Massachusetts. Hoffman narrates over 250 years in the life of a small town, from the days of its founder, Hallie Brady, the foundering of its contemporary citizens as they struggle to define themselves and their families when their stories have–despite a visit from the Federal Writer’s Project–fallen off the map.
What I loved? The stories are so interconnected, so of-a-piece with one another, that by the end, I knew the town’s history in my bones. I found I could let go of the little girl who died in the river because I knew the town would re-enact her loss in the pageant every spring. When old-timers repeated that “Johnny Appleseed himself”planted the first “Look No Further” Apple tree, I remembered the days and nights he’d spent sowing. And when Appleseed’s great-great-great granddaughter discovers the bones of a bear in the red earth of her garden, she realizes she’s broken something holy. How could she know, how could she know, that act of love came straight from the austerity of Hallie Brady’s bravery?
There is a whiff of magic in the stories: Red earth. People who survive on bear milk. An eel that turns into a woman. But there is so much reality, so much weight, in these people making life together, that the magic makes sense. It dignifies the ordinariness of the characters’ lives. It reminds me–thank you, Alice Hoffman–that there is narrative power inherent in staying put.