…Hoffman has developed her own brand of magical realism. Lulling and thought-provoking, she conjures soothing places where readers, like the children to whom we tell fairy tales, can learn with pleasure…"A story can still entrance people even while the world is falling apart," Hoffman writes in "The Fisherman's Wife," a story about gossip during the Depression. These tall tales, with their tight, soft focus on America, cast their own spell.
The Washington Post
Hoffman brings us 200 years in the history of Blackwell, a small town in rural Massachusetts, in her insightful latest. The story opens with the arrival of the first settlers, among them a pragmatic English woman, Hallie, and her profligate, braggart husband, William. Hallie makes an immediate and intense connection to the wilderness, and the tragic severing of that connection results in the creation of the red garden, a small, sorrowful plot of land that takes on an air of the sacred. The novel moves forward in linked stories, each building on (but not following from) the previous and focusing on a wide range of characters, including placid bears, a band of nomadic horse traders, a woman who finds a new beginning in Blackwell, and the ghost of a young girl drowned in the river who stays in the town's consciousness long after her name has been forgotten. 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. (Jan.)
“An absorbing portrait of a town, told through its unforgettable people…masterful.”
-People, four stars
“[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."
"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."
"The novel moves forward in linked stories, each building on (but not following from) the previous and focusing on a wide range of chracters....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."
Set in a mythical town tucked deep in the Berkshire Mountains, Hoffman's (www.alicehoffman.com) collection of interrelated stories imagines the 300-year history of rural Blackwell, MA, reflecting on the growth of western Massachusetts and the legacy of a resident family. Originally called Bearsville by its settlers, who ended up on the wrong side of a mountain in the snow, Blackwell carries the spirit and mystery of one of its founders, Hallie Brady. Each chapter moves the story through another generation, with the narrative literally grounded by the garden, where only red plants can grow. Hoffman's usual charm and skill at character development are in full force as she pulls off the historical progression. Some chapters are more touching than others, but the plot's logic works well. Actress Nancy Travis is an able reader, playing well with the magic of the prose. Recommended. [The Crown hc received a starred review, LJ 10/1/10; the Broadway pb will publish in August 2011.—Ed.]—Joyce Kessell, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo
In 14 freestanding but consecutive stories, Hoffman (The Story Sisters, 2009, etc.) traces the life of the town of Blackwell, Mass., from its founding in 1750 up to the present as the founders' descendents connect to the land and each other.
Hallie Brady, who saves her fellow settlers from starvation by catching eels in the river, has a special, perhaps mystical affinity for the local bears. After her daughter's husband Harry Partridge mistakenly kills her most beloved bear in her back garden, she disappears and Harry buries the bear. In 1792, Johnny (Appleseed) Chapman, the first of many outsiders who drift through, plants a Tree of Life in the center of town. In 1816, another outsider helps find the drowned body of six-year-old Amy Starr before eloping with her older sister. Amy's "ghost" will appear to future generations. In the Civil War, an injured Partridge finds a reason to live when he falls in love with the war widow of Amy's nephew. In 1903, Isaac Partridge marries a woman who has reinvented herself, not unlike Hallie Brady. In 1935, a writer from Brooklyn comes to town as part of the WPA and falls in love with a fisherman's wife who may or may not be an enchanted eel. In 1945, the townspeople believe that the tomatoes that Hannah Partridge, Isaac's daughter, plants in her garden have the power to make wishes come true; in fact Hannah's own wish to raise a child without marriage is realized when her sister comes back from World War II with a baby girl named Kate. In 1956, Kate falls in love with a man whose loneliness has turned him into a kind of bear. Discovering bones in her garden in 1986, Kate's daughter Louise thinks they belong to a dinosaur until the man who loves her proves they came from a bear. Together the lovers re-bury the bones.
Fans of Hoffman's brand of mystical whimsy will find this paean to New England one of her most satisfying.