“The Garden of Small Beginnings: A Novel” (Berkley), by Abbi Waxman
Widowhood was forced on Lilian Girvan without notice. Her husband Dan was struck and killed while jogging through the neighborhood one day. The tragic accident left Girvan and the couple’s two young daughters behind to navigate a new way of life without him.
Girvan’s widowhood and her endeavors in single parenting form the basis of “The Garden of Small Beginnings.” Debut author Abbi Waxman came up with the premise after a fight with her own husband. It was one of those fights so heated that Waxman thought - for a split second - that life would be fine if he were dead.
Waxman, a mother and former advertising copywriter, ran with the idea and developed a story for a woman in this situation. The result is “The Garden of Small Beginnings.”
“It’s been more than three years since my husband died, yet in many ways he’s more useful than ever,” Girvan narrates in the book. “True, he’s not around to take out the trash, but he’s great to bitch at while I’m doing it myself and he’s generally excellent company, invisibility notwithstanding.”
An illustrator by trade, Girvan is assigned to draw pictures for a gardening textbook. To do research for the project, she takes a six-week gardening class that’s filled with a hodgepodge of students - some old, some young, but, most notably, a crush develops between Girvan and the teacher.
If you’re looking for a summer beach read with meat, this might well be your book. Waxman executes a novel that is interesting and easy to follow, if somewhat predictable. Chapters are punctuated with gardening tips, techniques and commentary that keep the story’s pace moving.
“In many ways, turnips are the unsung heroes of the root crop universe,” Waxman writes. “They don’t have the ad budget potatoes have, or the glamorous appearance of carrots but they shouldn’t be underestimated.”
Waxman develops and explores the characters and their relationship in depth and leaves the reader with a clear picture. If the subject matter sounds heavy, Waxman balances it with moments of humorous writing and some readers may appreciate that not all the loose ends get neatly tied up in the end.
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