The Red Garden introduces us to the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts. 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.
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, the characters in The Red Garden are extraordinary and vivid: a young wounded Civil War soldier who is saved by a 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 garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look. The Red Garden is as unforgettable as it is moving.
The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman, read by Nancy Travis, evokes comparisons to Thornton Wilder’s classic Our Town. The book meanders through time, allowing the lives and deaths of the inhabitants of Blackwell, Massachusetts, to tell the story of time’s passage, of loves requited, of the inexplicable in life, and of the stamina of good, plain folk.
Nancy Travis performs the chapters each one denoting a forward progression in time in a straightforward manner. Deftly moving between Hoffman’s storytelling of fact and fantasy, Travis has the opportunity to be a narrator, an actor, and a teller of ghostly tales. Whether characterizing the first inklings of lovesick yearning from a teen-aged girl in the 18th century or portraying a young widow, two centuries later, who has lost her Blackwell childhood sweetheart across the world in Vietnam, Travis deftly moves from character to character, time period to time period.
Nature also becomes a character in The Red Garden, and Travis’ reading imbues palpable emotion as generation after generation of Blackwell residents brave the roiling Eel River and venture recklessly into the bear-infested woods of Hightop Mountain. They never learn as we, the listeners, do. Early in the story there is the depiction of the young stranger with an oddly strong sense of purpose who strays in the area long enough to plant some apple trees and bewitch the local women. The apple orchard, then, becomes the scene of trysts and confrontations for centuries onward. Finally, there is the Red Garden itself, so named because, decade after decade, anything planted within its fenced confines comes up red. There’s a story there, buried centuries ago.
In The Red Garden the life of a small town lived over hundreds of years by long-time residents, itinerant wanderers, and that mysterious fisherman’s wife will captivate all who move towards that ultimate audio book commitment: “Add to Cart”. Carole Chouinard
"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." (
"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)
"Fans of Hoffman’s brand of mystical whimsy will find this paean to New England one of her most satisfying." ( Kirkus Review)
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