cover image The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns

The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns

Margaret Dilloway. Putnam, $25.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-399-15775-2

The title is apt to describe Galilee Garner, the prickly protagonist of Dilloway’s second novel (after How to Be an American Housewife). “Gal” has been on dialysis since she was diagnosed with kidney disease as a child and, by her own choosing, has distanced herself from others. She lives a solitary life in central California, her free time spent breeding competition roses and teaching high school biology at a private Catholic school. Her sole friend, Dara, whose frilly ’50s style makes her look like a character from the musical Grease, teaches art at the same school, but Gal’s self-centeredness creates a rift in their relationship. Gal’s autonomy is challenged when her teenage niece Riley arrives unannounced when Riley’s flighty mom, Gal’s sister, goes to Hong Kong on business. Having Riley around slowly softens Gal, drawing her focus away from herself. There’s no mystery that Dilloway’s metaphor, the care needed to keep a rose thriving, is meant to evoke the needs of a child, a friendship, or someone suffering a chronic illness. Dilloway’s tale is slow in reaching the sweet part of Gal’s hardened heart, and this lack of empathy will push some readers away. Agent: Elaine Markson, Markson Thoma. (Aug.)