REVIEW: The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
Lilian Girvan has been a single mother for three years—ever since her husband died in a car accident. One mental breakdown and some random suicidal thoughts later, she’s just starting to get the hang of this widow thing. She can now get her two girls to school, show up to work, and watch TV like a pro. The only problem is she’s becoming overwhelmed with being underwhelmed.
At least her textbook illustrating job has some perks—like actually being called upon to draw whale genitalia. Oh, and there’s that vegetable-gardening class her boss signed her up for. Apparently, being the chosen illustrator for a series of boutique vegetable guides means getting your hands dirty, literally. Wallowing around in compost on a Saturday morning can’t be much worse than wallowing around in pajamas and self-pity.
After recruiting her kids and insanely supportive sister to join her, Lilian shows up at the Los Angeles botanical garden feeling out of her element. But what she’ll soon discover—with the help of a patient instructor and a quirky group of gardeners—is that into every life a little sun must shine, whether you want it to or not…
Dear Ms. Waxman,
After I finished reading and was still giddy with delight about The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, Elyssa Patrick read it and mentioned that there is a scene in it where Nina goes to the house of a character named Lili and that Lili has her own book. So of course I then went and bought the book. After reading it, I ended up being conflicted about Lili and Co.
The story is packed to the brim with smart, sardonic, deadpan humor. This is my kind of humor and I adored it. There is also a wonderful circular relationship of joy and love between Lili, her children, and her sister. But there is still some tension there at times. Oh, the little joys of motherhood. Lili’s mother, however, is a piece of work. I never was quite sure of the reason to include this character or for her to be so difficult.
Three years after his tragic death, Lili continues to grieve for her husband but bits of anger – at the situation, at him for dying – poke through. Life insurance can pay for things but she still loves (she saved sealed bags of undone laundry so she can occasionally open one and remember how he smelled) and misses Dan. The grief is not only a part of Lili but also of her oldest daughter who remembers her father and now worries about forgetting him. I thought all this was realistic.
The initial scenes of the garden class Lili attends for her job are funny but it dawned on me pretty quickly that this wasn’t real life as there was no way they could have grown some of those vegetables in that short (5 weeks) an amount of time. It also showed how judgy Lili can be about people.
As the book progressed, other things began to annoy or irritate me. We’re told that Lili is cute and she seems to effortlessly snag Uber wonderful Edward’s romantic intentions with almost no effort. Then even when she pushes him away, he appears to be willing to wait endlessly for her because she’s so special. Hmmm. Her children sometimes have tantrums but somehow Lili always manages to soothe hurt feelings and avert absolute thermonuclear child meltdowns. Over the course of the book two other couples fall in love, the garden is such a success, and all the people in the gardening class form such a tight bond of friendship. The company Lili works for is in trouble but gosh, LA has lots of wonderful illustrator positions just waiting to be filled. Maybe the resolution of some things are just a teensy bit too easy?
I don’t mean to belittle the horrible, life changing event Lili and her daughters have had to deal with in their lives but so many of the conflicts here were either quickly dealt with or ended up being non starters. Also though I generally don’t mind first person books, the amount of time spent in Lili’s head began to wear on me. I liked this book but after I finished it, it felt like eating 3 frosted cupcakes in a row – a huge sugar hit that led to feeling a little sick and is not something that is going to stay with me. C
Did you also buy it when it was discounted ages ago? Because that’s what I did. :)
I didn’t click with this one either and I really wanted to—mainly because I thought Lili and her kids were adorable in NINA, and my always-needing-a-romance perked up even more when Edward was introduced (I think it was at the wedding?). But for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get into the book and I think I gave up on the book but skipped to the end to read that part, lol.
@Elyssa Patrick: I ended up buying a used paperback copy which I think I’ve already donated to one of the many Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood.
YES – the wedding scene in “Nina” was so wonderful and when I started “Garden,” I was really enjoying it but it just never took off or came together or whatever.
Given that I felt so-so about her latest one, “I Was Told It Would Get Easier,” and am not wild about the description of “Other People’s Houses,” I’m wondering if she’s going to be a one hit wonder for me.