Starting from its founding in 1750 to the present, Alice Hoffman's The Red Garden traces the life of the town of Blackwell, Massachuetts, and how the founders’ descendents connect to the land and each other.
The Red Garden is a fantastical history of Blackwell, Mass., from 1750 to the present, replete with intermarried families, melancholic bears and altruistic mermaids ...presents fables in dated, chronological order, beginning with William Brady's catastrophic expedition to the Berkshire frontier... Narrative intimacy and authority are apparent in Hoffman's aphoristic sentences ... Although her characterization is stronger on archetype than on human idiosyncrasy and some plots are contrived, Hoffman's spirit of place shines ... Hoffman exhibits her usual curiosity about and sympathy with outcasts.
While it could plausibly be either a linked story collection or a novel, it is neither fish nor fowl, but, rather, a lovingly befinned and befeathered chimera of both ...are 14 swift, consecutive stories in the book, most of which stand firmly on their own ...a dazzled reader has to put down the book for a time to allow the narratives to gently sink in ...we are taken in such a rapid-fire manner through the history of Blackwell, in a way that dismisses to oblivion most of the characters as soon as their stories are over, the book's necessary anchor quickly becomes the town itself ...only the elements of a town is akin to describing a person by listing physical characteristics, and the parts of Blackwell never congeal to become a unique and vivid place of its own ...the most satisfying way to think of The Red Garden is as a book of poetry poured into a prose mold.
...The Red Garden, is not, properly speaking, a novel at all. It’s a collection of 14 stories set in Blackwell, Mass., a fictional village deep in the woods of the Berkshires. Beginning with Blackwell’s founding in 1786 by a handful of inept, unprepared settlers, these stories span more than 200 years ...against a background of far-off historical events Hoffman sets the ongoing life of one small town and its episodic interaction with the natural world that surrounds it ... The strongest stories in The Red Garden are those in which the folktale form, despite its prescribed simplicity of perspective and voice, allows Hoffman’s gifts as a storyteller ample scope ... In the less effective stories here, the folk-tale form exhibits the defects of its virtues. Simplicity degenerates into simplification.