THERE’S PLENTY OF JOY TO DISCOVER IN ABBI WAXMAN’S NOVEL ABOUT A WOMAN MOVING ON AFTER THE DEATH OF HER HUSBAND
REVIEWED BY TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER // July/August 2017
You almost can’t believe your mom saved them — file upon file, chronologically ordered, neatly preserved — every drawing you ever did, from the time you could hold a crayon until the day you graduated.
Senseless scribbles, things that hung on the refrigerator, Mom saved them all. And, as in the new novel “The Garden of Small Beginnings” by Abbi Waxman, you wish she’d saved that sense of innocence, too.
Lili Girvan’s husband, Dan, was a good listener.
He never argued, he let her gripe, never blamed her for anything, never told her what to do. That was probably because he was dead and cremated, but never mind.
It had been years since he was killed on the street in front of their house, practically in their kitchen. Claire was a baby then, and Annabel was 3. Now they’re both in grade school, and Lili still misses Dan.
She misses him so much that she can sometimes barely stand upright.
What’s curious is that everybody seems to want to play matchmaker. Lili’s sister, Rachel, keeps trying to trick Lili into dating. Friends give Lili that “isn’t he hot?” look when they see a guy checking her out. Her daughters probably wouldn’t mind if she dated and Lili’s in-laws tell her that Dan would want her to be happy.
She doesn’t know what would make her happy. That’s the problem.
And so Lili goes to work, where she’s an illustrator for textbooks, a job she loves. She’s also been hired to illustrate a series of books on flowers, vegetables and gardening in general and to give the L.A. city girl somewhat of an idea of the hobby, Lili’s boss asks her to take a gardening class.
It sounds like fun, and six Saturday mornings is no sacrifice, especially when she has nothing else to do. Annabel, Claire and Rachel want to learn to garden, too, so Lili signs them all up. It would be interesting to see how food is grown. It would be fun to see how flowers are grown. Lili never thinks she’d grow, herself…
When you head out to find “The Garden of Small Beginnings,” be sure to pick up some painkillers, too. You’ll need them. Your face will hurt from smiling so hard while you’re reading this book.
The most appealing main character ever, hands-down, has total control of author Abbi Waxman’s story: Lili is sassy, sarcastically funny, down-to- earth and so faux-confident.
Waxman nicely and fittingly drags that aching angst out between childcare issues and job stresses. Her wildly inappropriate (but hilarious) sister becomes someone readers can identify with, and will want to know better. Also of interest: there’s a tantalizing, not-completely-told mental-health issue in the story, complete with a no-nonsense therapist who makes brief appearances.
Despite its underlying theme of sadness, this isn’t a book that will leave you unhappy; in fact, there’s plenty of joy here, some profanity (beware!) and enough humor to make it all fun.
Start “The Garden of Small Beginnings” and see how fast you’re drawn in.
Terri Schlichenmeyer is a freelance writer based in Wisconsin.