Saturday, July 02, 2005

book review: Like a Watered Garden

"I received a box of flowers from my dead husband," begins Patti Hill’s first novel, Like a Watered Garden. The "I" is Mibby Garrett, widow of six months. The story is hers and she tells it in first person.

We join Mibby on May 2nd (the date on the first chapter) puttering in her yard. Of course the "box of flowers" was really not flowers at all but a box of bulbs delivered weeks after her husband Scott’s death the past November. Now as she looks for their sprouts, she flashes back to the accident and Hill begins to put in place the foundation for understanding why Mibby drives blocks out of her way to avoid a certain intersection, goes to meet 13-year-old son Ky to walk him home from school, and still hasn’t tackled the laundry or the grocery shopping.

For the next two months we follow Mibby around as she takes steps in coping with Scott’s death and comes to life again as a mother, friend and generally functioning person. She’s helped by her neighbor and guardian angel Louise who is constantly checking in on her to deliver basketfuls of leftovers from her B&B.

Mibby’s own garden design business is another salvation. It’s through this that she meets the handsome widower Ben. But that poses its own set of problems. Is the forlorn and neglected Ky, who has avoided talking about Scott because it upsets his mom, ready for a step-dad? And is Mibby herself ready for a new relationship when thoughts of Ben fill her with guilt and the fact she enjoys being with him makes her feel like an adulteress?

Mibby’s quirky storytelling voice with it’s range from hilarious to poignant is the book’s biggest strength. In addition to Mibby’s narrative, Hill makes us privy to her thoughts with wry asides (set in italic font), that further cement our loyalty to this hurting, self-deprecating but astute woman:

"Ben," I started again. "I’m a widow." That explains everything, doesn’t it?


It hasn’t been that long." I’m still in the raw zone.


"November." Has it been that long?

Besides Mibby, Louise, Ky and Ben, other characters of note I enjoyed were "Earring girl," Droop (the handyman, so nicknamed because of his penchant to reveal a bit more of his backside than you really want to see), and Blink, Mibby’s black Lab.

The story is framed by the Christian worldview. Hill eschews preaching, though. Instead she delivers her take on where God fits into the whole dealing-with-the-hard-stuff-in-life thing through the neighborly Louise who regularly brings over her wisdom, encouragement and prayers along with those leftover lemon scones and raspberry muffins.

The 318-page volume encompasses a bare two months in Mibby’s life (though through timely interjected memories we gain a perspective of her entire life till now). In that space, Hill manages to address a bouquet (oops!) of themes – among them, how one deals with the death of a spouse, forgiveness, parenting, and friendship – ensuring the book will appeal to a much wider audience than just women who love to garden.

I came away from reading the book feeling like I’d made a couple of new friends and wondering how they’re doing. Apparently I won’t have long to wait. Hill’s second book in the "Garden Gates" series, Always Green, is due out this summer.

And hey, if in the meantime I really need my Mibby-fix, I can go to Patti Hill’s web site to get Book Club discussion questions, Mibby’s gardening tips and Louise’s recipes for Lemon Scones and Raspberry Dream Muffins. (This website supplement stuff must be the adult variation of kid’s book action figures – another take on trans-media marketing, I suppose)


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