25 April 2017
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: General adult fiction, women's fiction
Format: Free ARC through Penguin's First to Read program (no compensation for review)
Expected publication date: 02 May 2017
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The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman is a novel about the aftermath of grief. Not the immediate aftermath, but what a person goes through after the casseroles stop coming and friends stop tiptoeing around. Thankfully, it avoids the tendency to make the grieving widow look like a freak because she wasn't ready to start dating a year after losing her spouse.
At the opening of the book, Lilian has been a widow for three years. After her husband's death in a car accident, she had a mental breakdown and had to be hospitalized. With the help of family, friends, and a good doctor, Lilian was able to get back to handling the normal routines of her life like going to her job as a textbook illustrator and taking care of her two young daughters. That was a major achievement, but now the sameness of her life is starting to get to her. That's when Lilian's boss signs her up for a gardening class so she can illustrate a set of gardening guides and a group of new friends comes into her life.
The subject may give the impression that this story is maudlin, but that isn't the case. The banter between Lilian and other characters is lively, while the expression of what it felt like for Lilian to witness her husband's death and go through a breakdown was moving. The little interstitial bits about how to grow different vegetables felt almost like a gimmick, but they don't detract from the enjoyment of the book and are easy to skip.
Stories that revolve around a group of disparate strangers who encounter each other through an activity like a knitting group or a cooking class can suffer from the issue of telling instead of showing. Waxman avoided this problem by showing every scene from Lilian's point of view. Any information the reader finds out about the other characters is the result of Lilian seeing it or hearing it herself. This makes the story feel much more active than when an invisible narrator just tells you everything the characters are doing.
In The Garden of Small Beginnings, Waxman has given us a contemporary view of creating a new life after loss. There is nothing revolutionary or shocking in the outcome of the story, but it is still one that can be appreciated by mature readers who have gone through such a tragedy themselves.
The Garden of Small Beginnings at Amazon
The Garden of Small Beginnings at Book Depository
The Garden of Small Beginnings at Overdrive