Synopsis: THE GARDEN LADY by Susan Dworkin is a novel about unexpected love, the silence that becomes complicity, and the magic of redemption. Urgent and compelling, the story resonates with today’s headlines as it poses the ethical question: How do we live with what we know but choose not to think about or act upon?
Maxie Dash, the heroine of THE GARDEN LADY, is a famous beauty, a fashion icon, the face of many national TV ads. Her first husband, a world-class photographer, took nude pictures of her, which are so beautiful that they now hang in museums.
On the cusp of her 50s, Maxie decides to make one more marriage, something permanent and restful, to a rich man who will guarantee her an affluent life and future security. Amazingly she finds the perfect man. Even more amazingly, she grows to love him. Albert shares Maxie’s passion for the opera and willingly supports her favorite charities. He indulges her delight in public gardens and allows her to endow the community with their beauty. All he asks in return is that she give him her love and her unswerving loyalty and agree to know nothing — absolutely nothing — about his business.
Maxie is sustained by her best friend, the designer Ceecee Rodriguez, whom she treasures as a sister. But she is shaken by the persistent enmity of Sam Euphemia, a fierce young business executive, who suspects Albert of terrible crimes.
Add Maxie Dash to the list of great heroines of contemporary fiction. Smart, funny, enjoying every moment of her hard-won success, she ultimately faces the truth about her life, moves past denial and realizes that “her loyalty was a side effect of her greed and her greed was a crime against nature and her silence, her willful, terror-stricken silence, the true disaster.” Her attempt to turn Garbage Mountain, a New Jersey landfill, into a beautiful park is key to her redemption.
My review: 3 stars.
This book packs A LOT into its slim 220 pages. It’s not my typical genre of historical fiction or romance, but I’m trying to expand my horizons a bit so I was delighted to have the opportunity to read and review the book. It was a good palate cleanser after spending most of the winter reading feel-good, happy ending books.
It’s fast-paced which I appreciate in a thriller/suspense like book. Years ago, I read more in that genre (I loved Mary Higgins Clark books through high school and college), but as I had more time to read for pleasure, I found that suspense books often didn’t develop fast enough or the plot dragged on and I couldn’t read fast enough to enjoy. Or I figured out the whodunit? or big twist early on and it ruined the book for me.
In any case, The Garden Lady, while it has a lot going on (love affairs, crime, family drama, etc.) and has a lot of characters, didn’t drag for me and it kept me guessing as to where the author was going with the plot. I appreciated that the author didn’t spend a lot of time with character development that took away from the main plot, but I still felt like I understood who these people were, motivations, etc. The main character, Maxie, is complex and interesting, which helps in her path forward in reaching her goal to build a memorial garden. I know it sounds weird that the premise of starting a garden in honor of a dead spouse can be riveting, but the author’s character development, and the role of the deceased husband Albert (and his past) helps to make it interesting. Trust me!
Overall, I gave it three stars not for any fault of the author, but mostly because of my own reading habits and life. I didn’t get to read it in one weekend as I’d hoped and so it took a few sittings, which had me having to re-read a bit and remember everything that I had previously read– might be pregnancy brain, or just that there is A LOT going on with not a lot of pages.