Review of SUSANNAH'S GARDEN by Debbie Macomber (see her website)
Mira Books, May 2006
Susannah Nelson isn't happy. She's tired of teaching, frustrated with her daughter's refusal to be more responsible about her life, worried about her aging mother, and now she's having dreams about her high school boyfriend--dreams she definitely can't share with her husband of twenty-five years. When she learns that her mother is having problems, she drops everything and heads from Seattle to Colville, in eastern Washington--only to find that her mother has lost weight, is having problems with her memory, and has been visited by her long-dead husband.
Susannah never got over her anger at her father for sending her away to boarding school, breaking up her romance with Jake. When Susannah's daughter visits and quickly falls for the neighborhood bad-boy, Susannah doesn't initially recognize that she's echoing her father's behavior, putting her relationship on the same destructive path that she took with her own father. Susannah's mother, Vivian, refuses to see any problems in her own life and resists the idea of moving into an assisted living center--until her dead husband tells her he approves. Meanwhile, Susannah renews her friendship with Carolyn, now owner of the local mill and the town's largest employer. Carolyn has long been divorced and is fighting a totally inappropriate reaction to a man who admits to being a drifter.
Susannah's story reflects the life of many women caught in the middle. On the one hand, aging parents are an increasing concern. On the other, children who are really old enough to be taking care of themselves refuse to accept responsibility and act as if 'fun' were the sole purpose of life. It seems that everything Susannah does only makes things worse. When she spots her daughter's new boyfriend kissing another woman, she tries to warn her daughter--only to have her threaten to turn away. Her mother is equally angry when Susannah recognizes that she needs assisted living, that her growing disorientation and weakness puts her in danger.
Author Debbie Macomber (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Macomber) adds a bit of suspense. Someone is breaking into Vivian's home and stealing useless trinkets. Jake's old girlfriend, the girlfriend he had before Susannah, claims she's still in touch with him. And Susannah learns a horrible secret about her father's past. He paid five thousand dollars to Jake's father--and continued to make large withdrawals in cash for years. Could he have been supporting a mistress?
Debbie Macomber is a powerful writer who involves readers in her characters' lives. Susannah makes an interesting protagonist because she seems intent on rushing to destruction. Her dreams of her high school boyfriend threaten to destroy a marriage of twenty-five years. It's too late for her to recover from her over-the-top anger at her late father, but she can't seem to prevent herself from following the same destructive path with her daughter. Her impatience with her mother further alienates her from everyone who is most important to her.
It's hard to put down a Debbie Macomber book and SUSANNAH'S GARDEN is no exception. I didn't especially like Susannah. She was too quick to judge others, too blind to her own flaws. But these very flaws were what makes her an interesting character. The end of the story left several important moral questions unanswered. Was Susannah's husband right in insisting that Susannah not complete her promise to Troy? Is Carolyn's solution to the dilemma created by Dave the wanderer correct? Rather than wrapping things up neatly, Macomber chose to leave these questions to the reader--perhaps recognizing that some problems don't have easy answers and that real people have to make choices without the certainty of absolute moral correctness.
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