The Garden of Small Beginnings
By: Abbi Waxman
Narrator: Emily Rankin
PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE AUDIO | Imprint: Penguin Audio
Genre: Fiction – Contemporary Women
Release Date: May 02, 2017
9 Hours and 51 Minutes
I voluntarily reviewed a review copy of this book provided by Penguin Random House Audio. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
In the spirit of A Man Called Ove and Good Grief—a poignant, funny, and utterly believable novel about life and loss.
Give grief a chance . . .
Lilian Girvan has been a single mother for three years—ever since her husband died in a car accident. One mental breakdown and some random suicidal thoughts later, she’s just starting to get the hang of this widow thing. She can now get her two girls to school, show up to work, and watch TV like a pro. The only problem is she’s becoming overwhelmed with being underwhelmed.
At least her textbook illustrating job has some perks—like actually being called upon to draw whale genitalia. Oh, and there’s that vegetable-gardening class her boss signed her up for. Apparently, being the chosen illustrator for a series of boutique vegetable guides means getting your hands dirty, literally. Wallowing around in compost on a Saturday morning can’t be much worse than wallowing around in pajamas and self-pity.
After recruiting her kids and insanely supportive sister to join her, Lilian shows up at the Los Angeles botanical garden feeling out of her element. But what she’ll soon discover—with the help of a patient instructor and a quirky group of gardeners—is that into every life a little sun must shine, whether you want it to or not… – See more at: http://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/540478/the-garden-of-small-beginnings/#sthash.O1nvKkWw.dpuf
This is a sweet, but very sad, story. If you have lost a loved one (including a pet) recently, or ever if the lost was tragic, this will either be cathartic or throw you back into the beginning of grief.
The book is short but develops characters fairly well. The little girls in the story reminded me of the daughters in the TV program, MEDIUM, that was on a few years ago.
This is about one woman, and her family, engulfed in grief, remorse, and in lost possibilities, but then faced with new beginnings. We all have that feeling of facing going on after a loss, an unfathomable loss. It is possibly easier to recover from a sad, but not tragic loss. Herein, the loss of a young man, a new father, presents the difficult loss. Lilian has also lost her dad and doesn’t seem to be in the shock phase of that loss still. Is it because it was more expected?
I used to study a particular Buddhist text about Buddhist nuns, and one lesson I took from it was that no family, no person who reaches an age of self-awareness, has ever escaped loss; not experienced grief. Life moves on for those who remain on this plane of existence and there is no stopping time, no going back to the moment before. You cannot help but move on.
When one is in the throes of grief, and in this case the throes of grief are debilitating to the point of temporary insanity, it is all you can see. And, after the acute phase, you never really stop grieving that loss — life will never be the same. And, in this case, it is three years later and the woman has not really moved on. Nor has she understood that she is not alone in her loss.
Until a person can accept the universality of grief, can they begin to move on?
Waxman looks at many angles of Lilian’s grief and that of her family. There’s her own loss, of course. But, her children have lost a father one knew and the other was too young to remember. Waxman looks at this particular angle well; or she made me look at the latter. In realizing the suffering of others Lilian is able to move on.
There is a bit of additional “adulting” that has to happen too: Lilian has to come to terms with her super-self-involved mother.
I felt the title of this book could have been “The Garden of Lost Possibilities” if the characters had not grown. But they will grow. For a mother, particularly, it must be a particular form of cocooning to see your kids grow and yet try to keep the wholeness of a life that has been shattered.
Not to say there isn’t comic relief provided as well.
Rankin does a beautiful job giving Lilian and the other characters their voices. Lilian is appropriately quirky, Dr. Bloem gets a reasonable Germanic accent.
One thing, however, I found the descriptions of the accident really hard to listen too and if you have had a traumatic loss recently, you may want to avoid that. I finished this a week or so ago and I still shudder occasionally with the memory. And, I have not experienced this particular kind of loss (knock on wood).
But, if you’re as hardy as the plants in the garden the families here grow, then you might like the way this explores life, love, grief and acceptance.