Lillian’s Garden

Carrie Jane Knowles. Roundfire/John Hunt (NBN, dist.), $18.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-78099-830-5
In this earnest but prosaic story of an early-1960s woman in conflict, Helen Nichols, mother of teenagers Tommy and Linda, husband to Richard, stands out in her small Midwestern town. Linda’s classmates call Helen “crazy”; what emerges is a mix of existential angst and bipolar disorder. Helen yearns for something, but other than the pleasures of the eponymous garden, begun by her beloved mother-in-law Lillian, Helen can’t find it—not in her hard-working husband, scarred by WWII; not in her fire-and-brimstone “Freewill Baptist” church; maybe, if only a little bit, in her children. This first novel reads more like a memoir than a fictional narrative; episodic, remembered, and not fully realized. The garden becomes a rich metaphor thanks to the book’s most vivid (but least convincing) character, the lay preacher “Devil hunter” Joe Nathan, who finds it “full of pride” and compares Helen to Eve. In a surprising twist, Helen leaves her family, but it’s more manic episode than liberating moment. The heartfelt pathos is smothered by the leaden prose. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/25/2013
Release date: 04/01/2013
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