The Red Garden


“Set in a haunted New England town, Hoffman’s novel has its share of lovers and dreamers, many of them undone by desire or fate. It also has plenty of dangers, some natural but more often human. Spirit animals, apparent monsters, and apparitions—including a child who drowned long ago—figure throughout. But there’s nothing ethereal about this spellbinding exploration of innocence, devotion, and experience.”
—Parade Picks

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“Hoffman’s latest is an absorbing portrait of a town, told through its unforgettable people. The fictional Blackwell, Mass., was founded in 1750 by Hallie Brady, a determined young bride whose foolish husband brings her west from Boston to resettle as winter is settling over the Berkshires. Her story, like the other townspeople’s told here, is tinged with the author’s signature magic: Hallie befriends the bears and cultivates a garden in which everything, even the green beans, blooms in crimson. The town’s tale bounds forward in generational leaps, using touchstones from American history to ground the surreal happenings: Johnny Appleseed plants an orchard on his way to Ohio; Emily Dickinson wanders away from Mount Holyoke and onto a Blackwell porch. Chapters read like complete short stories, often propelled by a mounting sense of dread, but also subtly laying the foundation for the next episode. The result is a masterful study of how small towns have changed over three centuries, while their residents’ concerns about love and loss have not.”
—People, four star review

“The tale of Hallie Brady — one of the original founders of Blackwell, Mass., a scoop of a town in the Berkshire Mountains — is full of magic and grit and tragedy. In a series of interlinked vignettes that begin with Hallie and span the village’s 1750 founding through the present day, Hoffman describes a people hauntingly connected to the land beneath their feet. Each episode in The Red Garden is a marvel — there isn’t a disappointing one in the bunch. But the cumulative oomph of Blackwell’s history is Hoffman’s real triumph. Time passes; a small town grows. Hallie’s descendants face different ordeals in the 21st century, but they are no less painful and exquisite.” A
—Entertainment Weekly (Reviewed by Karen Valby, Jan 19, 2011)

“Readers heading for the mountain town of Blackwell should check out dessert—apple pie with apples from the famous apple tree that the villagers swear was planted by Johnny Appleseed, or a slice of the mysterious local Apology Cake. Next, take a bottle of brew down to the Eel River late at night and try to catch a glimpse of the girl in blue, nicknamed “The Apparition.” Don’t miss the local museum, where the bat collection is said to have resided from the building’s beginnings. Alice Hoffman’s The Red Garden chronicles a town’s history through its founders’ trials and tribulations—from Blackwell’s unhappy and unlikely beginning to the present day. Hoffman’s characters are rich, her setting vivid, and your heart aches for the sorrow the garden has seen. If I were there, on my way out of town I’d visit the garden to dig my hands into the blood red dirt and see for myself if it really stains.”
Gally Talk, Publishers Weekly

“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.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
—Publishers Weekly

“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.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“This collection of interrelated stories from the talented Hoffman (The Story Sisters) chronicles the 300-year history of Blackwell, MA, a mythical town tucked deep in the Berkshire Mountains. Bears, eels, and vigilant collies are among Blackwell’s denizens, as well as a cast of characters both richly diverse and closely connected. From town founder Hallie Brady, a fearless woods–woman with an affinity for the ursine, to James Mott, the modern-day EMT who seems destined to tempt fate, these characters are singular and vivid: a beautiful baker who specializes in deadly sin cakes, a man so monstrously ugly he can’t look at himself, a fisherman’s wife with hair so long she can step on it, who has a strange connection to the eels that are the town’s main natural resource. Linking them all is an extraordinary garden, where the greenest plant grows red and the answers to life’s mysteries can be found. VERDICT 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, Jeanne Bogino, New Lebanon Lib., NY