So before I get started, I have to point out that I listened to this book, so don't have anything to refer back to easily other than my often scattered memory.  I am hoping that those of you that read the actual paper pages, or have an e-reader, can elaborate.  Don't forget the next selection is The Ninth Wife, and we'll target June 21st as the discussion date.

1. What is the symbolic significance of the red garden at the center of this collection of stories? And why red? 

To me red symbolizes passion - and I think it does here too.  Passions for each other, passions for the place.

2. Consider the town of Blackwell as a character. How does it change over time?

I love the things that stayed the same (the tavern, the main house of the original settlers, Eel River) and the things that changed over time (the gas station, the super market).  I liked how it went from a settlement to having a Chief of Police and a Community Hospital.  I grew up in a family that moved a lot, and then I moved a lot with the Air Force, so I don't feel like I "come from" a particular place.  Evolving time is divided by location.  Except that we've been here in Northern Virginia for going on seven years.  It's the longest I have lived at one address, and I like seeing how some things are the same (cherished neighbors, the walk we take to the kids school) and some things have changed (the height of my kids, a weed I forbid my husband from pulling that is now a 20 foot tree beginning to shade the back yard). 

3. What are some of the themes that tie these stories together. Consider, say, love and loss, or connection of the present with the past. How are those—and other—ideas developed?

Definitely family, and the generations that followed the original settlers are a theme, although I have to say that I kind of lost track of who was connected to who throughout the chapters.  I like stories where you meet again later in the story as an adult someone that was a child in a previous chapter.

4. Follow-up to Question 3: What is the idea behind the bear? 

It definitely connects a lot of the stories, but I found it interesting how the strongest personalities were the ones not afraid of the bear.  It symbolized to me the difference between learning to live with the challenges of a certain area, and truly becoming a part of the place, a part of the environment.

5. Many of the stories are concerned with the human connection to the natural world. How does it change over time in this book? Or does it change?

In the first half of the book there is a strong connection to the natural world because it was the source of food and other resources.  It continues to provide comfort and or challenges to the more modern characters.

6. What about Hoffman's blending of fictional characters with real historical figures—the appearance of Emily Dickenson and Johnny Appleseed. Why might she have incorporated them into her story? For what purpose?

It definitely puts a stake in the era.  More than just the year identified with each chapter, the historic references and actual people kept the story in the realm of the possible.

7. Of the 14 stories, which story do you like most? Which do you find most intriguing ... or magical ... or moving? Do any disappoint you?

I liked the last two stories best - could be because I remember them the best.  Some of the stories were unfinished to me - like the Carla and Tessa - and the misunderstanding that finished their friendship, the woman that was raped, the woman (Hanna?) that had the liaison with the visiting actress and then you just hear of her, mostly in the background, as a spinster aunt.  What happened next with these stories that ended rather than were finished?

8. What passages of particular beauty, or keen insight, struck you as you read this book?  

Loved the scene at the end where the man sees the boy curled up with his dog and he knows that the son is his.  


  1. I'm sorry, I've fallen behind with the books but I'm definitely doing the next one!
    Deb x

  2. Me, too! I've got the next book and since I'm having surgery in a few days and will be spending recuperating time reading, I'll be all over that book!


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