The Red Garden

Written by Alice Hoffman
Review by Jeanne Greene

Each tale in The Red Garden, a running story of residents of a small New England village, begins with someone coming to town or someone leaving. For 300 years, ordinary people find themselves in Blackwell, Massachusetts, and stay on, or leave, as if by chance – or magic.

In 1750, the first settlers, lost and starving, hunker down to wait for death, but one young woman has the will to survive. Hallie Brady ventures out to search for food but finds far more – a unique connection to man and beast. When tragedy follows Hallie to the new settlement, turning her garden red with blood, she returns to the wilds alone.

The tales that follow build on ones before, not necessarily along family lines. Years pass, three centuries, measured in births and deaths. Each successive personality, vividly brought to life, reflects the prevailing social environment, in mostly subtle ways. Language evolves to keeps up with the changing world. An American town emerges, shaped by individuals and forces largely unknown to current residents. Connections to past generations, mostly invisible, are buried in time.

The site of the original Brady garden now lies in the center of town. Anything planted there grows tinged with red. When all attempts to explain the phenomenon fail, there’s nothing left to do but what people always do – shrug and say, “It’s always been that way.”

The Red Garden is recommended to readers who enjoy, in addition to beautiful prose, magical realism and different narrators over time. If this is not to your taste, read the 1999 success, Here on Earth, or see the author’s varied backlist. Alice Hoffman is an author not to be missed.