Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: The Naked Gardener by L.B. Gschwandtner

We moved into our house a couple of years ago and when we described to neighbors which house we had bought, it was easiest to say that we were the ones who had the gorgeous flower gardens. I also noted that we would be in the process of slowly destroying the pristine landscaping as neither of us are much in terms of green thumbs. Sadly, my prophecy has come to pass and the flowers are mostly choked out by weeds at this point. I wish I had the inclination to tidy the beds at the very least and to make the gardens my own at best. Despite a lackadaisical attitude to gardening myself, I could hardly fail to be tempted by a book with a title like The Naked Gardener. I'd scandalize the neighbors but there's something appealing about the idea of being out in nature wearing nothing (well, until the sunburn bloomed across delicate parts).

But the novel is not really about gardening naked; it is about the freedom to make the choices that drive our lives. Katelyn is an artist who lives with Maze, a professor. They live in Virginia most of the year but have bought a ramshackle farm in Vermont in order to spend summers there. They have transformed the farm into something unique and different, reflecting their attitudes toward life. But Katelyn is in the midst of a crisis of sorts. While she and Maze love each other, she is afraid to commit to marrying him, something he wants very much. Her reluctance stems from a past failed relationship and she fears his eagerness comes from a desire to replace his late first wife. As she wrestles with what her ultimate decision will be with regards to Maze and her future, she also gets more involved in the local town's politics. Discovering that the town council is made up entirely of women who want to save the dying little place after the men have given up, Katelyn proposes that the five women accompany her on a canoe trip starting in the wilderness above Trout River Falls.

Each of the women on the trip is facing a crossroads in her life: an unexpected pregnancy, a stagnant marriage, a cheating spouse looking for physical perfection, a first date, the fear of a medical unknown, and of course Katelyn's decision to marry or not. As the women float down the river, they share their fears and advise each other. They tell deeply personal secrets and bond the way that only an extended time together in nature can bring. But their own situations are not the only thing they contemplate as they paddle, they also concoct a plan to save their town without turning it into a museum or a succession of strip malls. And then the picturesque trip turns into something more dangerous, thrilling, and adreneline churning, reminding these women on the cusp of changes that life never stands still even if we don't face our dilemmas.

The novel is a slow and introspective one with the bulk of the plot movement in the latter half of the book. There is quite a lot of backstory on Katelyn's fear of commitment but quite a bit less so on Maze and his late wife. This makes Katelyn's assertion that he wants to be married because he wants to replace his wife a little lacking in credibility. The secondary characters are also a bit tangential to Katelyn's story and I had some trouble keeping track of who each one was as they talked on their paddle downriver. The writing is quite descriptive and beautiful. Katelyn's garden is completely tantalizing and the wilderness of the river is dreamlike. There is no neat closure here for all the women's concerns but that is how life works, continuing forward like the river in the novel, sometimes slowly and sometimes in full torrent. I had to suspend belief a bit in terms of the women besides Katelyn being complete novices at canoeing and choosing to run a raging falls. Symbolically the idea works but the reality would be foolhardy at best and dangerous at worst.

Over all, I enjoyed the novel. It will easily appeal to those looking for an empowering tale and those interested in the power of the choices, large and small, that we all face throughout our lives.

Learn more about the author and the book at the author's website, her Facebook page, and on Twitter.

Thanks to Lisa from BookSparks PR and the author for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds pretty interesting! I have seen the title around but never knew what the book was about.


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