Title: A Garden to Keep
Author: Jamie Langston Turner
Publisher: Bethany House
Length: 415 pages
Synopsis: Plot wise, this book is little more than a woman’s experience of becoming a Christian, and later that same day, finding out that her husband is carrying on an extramarital affair and the fallout that ensues. However, to reduce this amazing novel to such a statement is a terrible injustice because this book is rich in every sense of the word. The protagonist, Elizabeth Landis, has always striven to be the very best mother she can possibly be, to the detriment of almost everything else in her life. Elizabeth loves her son, Travis, and poetry and art, and truthfully, in that order. Of course, there’s the other part of her life, her husband, Ken, and her daughter, Jennifer, whom she does not find quite as easy to express her love to. This, of course, is the undoing of her marriage. Of course, God uses this to bring about His greater good. This book is written in the almost the style of a personal journal, with the main difference being that Elizabeth actually writes to an audience–her supposed readers. I find this book very difficult to reduce to a summary because it is so much more than just a mere plot and sequence of events.
My Thoughts: I love this book and am completely challenged by it. Judging from the time that has elapsed here on my blog since my last blog post/book review, it has taken me a couple of weeks to read this book. Granted, it is a long novel, but it is not so much its length as its depth that caused my slow reading. I identify in so many ways with Elizabeth, ‘though not in the most fundamental way to the plot–that she has suffered a failed marriage. Elizabeth sees the world in terms of what she has read, and I often do the same thing. Elizabeth loves her son, Travis, to the point that her love really stunts her own growth, and I sometimes see myself doing this with my own children. Elizabeth’s new-found relationship with God unfolds in this novel like a beautiful flower, and it begins to inform everything she does. Of course, the true test comes in the possible reconciliation of her marriage, and we readers get to see the beautiful work of grace God does in her heart. God shows Elizabeth who she really is, and Elizabeth is all the better for it in the end. Ken and Travis are, too.
I have done a terrible job in reviewing this book, but really, I am still so close to it and so entranced by it, I cannot do a better job. I will close with some quotes from the novel that display both the talent of the author and the theme of the novel:
As you relive events, the past bleeds into the present, the present turns into the future, and the future reverts to the past. It’s all part of the same long line called life. There are no shut-off valves, no neat walls between then and now and someday. Ken used to say at times that I lived in the past, but he didn’t understand. I live firmly in the present, but the past always escorts me like an enormous devoted entourage.
I had thought I was Aware before this, but what did I know? A huge part of being Aware, I knew that night back in March standing in my kitchen, is understanding in a very personal, direct, almost supercharged way all the different kinds of suffering there are. It doesn’t erase your hurt, of course, but it makes you yield to it a little more. You feel a confederacy with other people, especially other women who have been through valleys.
Mothers waiting and watching on the sidelines–if you could harness all that emotional energy and turn it into electricity, the light from Earth would illuminate outer space all the way to Pluto. And not just mothers of athletes. Think of all those mothers in history who have watched their boys go off to war or off to sea or off to climb mountains or off to build bridges or mine gold or explore continents. I heard once what Charles Lindbergh’s mother said when her son started his epic flight across the Atlantic: “For the first time in my life, I realize that Columbus also had a mother.” I’ve never forgotten that.
If you like rich, thoughtful books, this is a must-read!