Synopses & Reviews
The Red Garden
introduces us to the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts, capturing the unexpected turns in its history and in our own lives.
In exquisite prose, Hoffman offers a transforming glimpse of small-town America, presenting us with some three hundred years of passion, dark secrets, loyalty, and redemption in a web of tales where characters' lives are intertwined by fate and by their own actions.
From the town's founder, a brave young woman from England who has no fear of blizzards or bears, to the young man who runs away to New York City with only his dog for company, the characters in The Red Garden are extraordinary and vivid: a young wounded Civil War soldier who is saved by a passionate neighbor, a woman who meets a fiercely human historical character, a poet who falls in love with a blind man, a mysterious traveler who comes to town in the year when summer never arrives.
At the center of everyone’s life is a mysterious garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look.
Beautifully crafted, shimmering with magic, The Red Garden is as unforgettable as it is moving.
"An absorbing portrait of a town, told through its unforgettable people...masterful." People, (starred review)
"[A] dreamy, fabulist series of connected stories....These...tales, with their tight, soft focus on America, cast their own spell." The Washington Post
"Hoffman's writing is so beautiful it's almost painful to read....Hoffman makes the magic she writes about feel so real, as though I could at any moment, find myself in the town of Blackwell and the mysterious garden that bears only red fruit." Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters
"The Red Garden is recommended to readers who enjoy, in addition to beautiful prose, magical realism and different narrators over time....Alice Hoffman is an author not to be missed." Historical Novels Review
"Alice Hoffman, herself a shining star among American novelists, possesses the stunning ability to express the numinous in the most prosaic language. Somehow, without elaborate wordplay, she manages to communicate a yearning interpretation of the life we all live, opening the reader's eyes to the otherworldly riddles that make things appear just a trifle askew — when we notice them, that is. And Alice Hoffman certainly notices them. One secret of her ongoing appeal, year after year, book after book, is her keen perception. And in The Red Garden, Hoffman delivers a body of stories that explores the depths of reality as well as its enduring quirkiness." Book Page
"In gloriously sensuous, suspenseful, mystical, tragic, and redemptive episodes, Hoffman subtly alters her language, from an almost biblical voice to increasingly nuanced and intricate prose reflecting the burgeoning social and psychological complexities her passionate and searching characters face in an ever-changing world." Booklist, starred review
"Hoffman has done it again, crafting a poignant, compelling collection of fairy tales suffused with pathos and brightened by flashes of magic. Her fans, as well as those of magical realism in general, will be enchanted." Library Journal, starred review
"Fans of Hoffman's brand of mystical whimsy will find this paean to New England one of her most satisfying." Kirkus Review
"The novel moves forward in linked stories, each building on (but not following from) the previous and focusing on a wide range of characters....The result is a certain ethereal detachment as Hoffman's deft magical realism ties one woman's story to the next even when they themselves are not aware of the connection. The prose is beautiful, the characters drawn sparsely but with great compassion." Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Alice Hoffman is the acclaimed author of twenty-nine works of fiction, including The Story Sisters, The Third Angel, Practical Magic, Here on Earth, The Ice Queen, Turtle Moon, Illumination Night, and Blackbird House. Her work has been translated into more than twenty languages and published in more than one hundred foreign editions.
Reading Group Guide
1. Hallie Brady’s story sets the stage, featuring a woman whose strength exceeds her husband’s and whose best source of solace and nourishment is a bear. What does the tale of Bearsville tell us about nature and survival? How do Harry’s actions reflect the dilemmas portrayed in the rest of the book?
2. Enhance your reading with a bit of research on the real John “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman. What makes him the ideal savior of the fictional Minette?
3. Though she is not rescued in “The Year There Was No Summer,” Amy Starr reappears for future generations. What does her ghost signify to you? Did she liberate Mary by uniting her with Yaron?
4. Like Hoffman’s character named Emily, poet Emily Dickinson did not complete her course of study at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. What does Charles Straw awaken in his young visitor? How does he help her become a “voyager” like him?
5. “The River at Home” captures both the untold suffering and the healing that marked the home front during the Civil War and its aftermath. What ultimately restores Evan and Mattie?
6. In “The Truth About My Mother,” how does Blackwell contrast with the modern world? What ultimately ensures that the characters can replace suffering with joy?
7. At the beginning of “The Principles of Devotion,” Azurine says Sara taught her that “a woman who could rescue herself was a woman who would never be in need.” Do you agree? Are most of the people in your life able to rescue themselves, or do they need others to rescue them? What separates the survivors from the victims in The Red Garden?
8. Discuss both Topsys: the brutalized Coney Island elephant (inspired by true, horrific events) and the dog that sustains Sara. Is the special relationship between humans and nonhuman creatures in The Red Garden magical or realistic?
9. “The Fisherman’s Wife” showcases the Eel River and its hardy inhabitants in a dramatic way. What does this story tell us about fantastic storytelling, as Ben Levy required? What does the wife’s tale tell us about hunger in its many forms?
10. Discuss the many types of love that emerge in “Kiss and Tell.” Although Hannah has to hide the truth about her romantic feelings, she is able to realize her dream of raising a child. In what ways does history repeat itself through the story of Blackwell?
11. Blackwell is home to many outcasts seeking a new identity, but the townspeople often fail to identify their own “monsters.” How did you respond to the tale of Cal, whom Kate saves, versus Matthew, whose heart she steals? How are evil and injustice born in Blackwell?
12. “Sin” captures the transient figures (family as well as friends) who shape a lifetime. Frank’s reunion with Jessie sparks memories but also raises a question: Who were the truly good people in their lives?
13. What does Louise Partridge inherit other than a house? How did you react when Brian, the Harvard researcher she requested, was disappointed to find only bear bones? What stories, emotions, and experiences were planted and harvested in the red garden?
14. James Mott seems cursed, yet he is also a healer. What is the role of fate in lives like his? Was he destined to succeed? Could you relate to the closing scene, in which James is watched over by his father and Cody? Do you feel protected by the spirit of loved ones who have passed away?
15. Which characters were you most drawn to? How would you have fared in their situation? What did you discover about life and history by reading their stories?
16. Discuss other Hoffman works you’ve read. What themes (perhaps of family, new identities, or the power of magical hope) echo throughout her previous books and The Red Garden? What unique vision of the human experience is presented in The Red Garden?