If you're all about realism and everything making sense, this is probably not the book for you; however, if you're able to surrender to magical storytelling and a more fairy tale approach, I highly recommend it.
Hoffman begins her series of stories about town of Blackwell, Massachusetts, with the town's original settlers in 1750. Most prominent among them is a true frontier woman--Hallie Brady. Hallie, you see, saves the original settlers from starvation during their first winter, when the menfolk weren't quite up to the task! It is in this first story that the long-running theme of bears and the red garden begins.
The book's title refers to the garden from which it is said only red things grow. There is a history to this garden, of course; a sad one which involves both Hallie and bears...or rather one particular bear whom she befriended that first hard winter. Through hundreds of years and generations descending from those first settlers, Hoffman tells the story of this area, these people and this garden. I think my favorite story is from 1956, called The Monster of Blackwell. A very Beauty and the Beast kind of story--sad but also tender and beautiful.
The writing here is splendid for the most part, though I found the book's last two stories a terrible disappointment--an ending not befitting this lovely book in my opinion. Hoffman does a superb job in describing the environs. I could see it in my mind as I read--always my favorite kind of storytelling. Her way with words is just joyous to read. A few excerpts:
"There were little frogs in the puddles and white butterflies with green specks on paper-thin wings circling the purple thistle. The sun was like honey, falling in splashes."
"She felt as if she had stepped into a pool of treachery..."
"The only way to fight evil is with joy, Azurine had written. Forget everything we've ever been taught."
"I wondered if the electricity at Luna Park had seeped into his skin, and that was why his meanness grew, like a charge, burning brighter throughout the spring."
Chances are you may not like all the stories (or all the people) equally, but the sum of the parts is most definitely worth reading. Sit down with a cup of coffee, throw a blanket over your legs and settle in for a trip to The Red Garden.