Monday, December 5, 2011

The Naked Gardener

I just finished reading The Naked Gardener by LB Gschwandtner (I have NO IDEA how to say her last name).  It is a charming book about being a woman and the duties and responsibilities that comes with this idea, mostly focusing on staying true to oneself and not becoming lost in a man.  Six women, of different ages and backgrounds, come together to save a sleepy little town up north.  Katelyn, the protagonist, is the naked gardener in the story and her desire to be at one with the earth seems to stem mostly from making sure she's still herself - or something very deep like that.

I found the book delightful, heavy motifs aside.  The bonding of six women that have very little in common charging the great outdoors with a canoe trip, surviving a tornado behind the thin sheet of nylon holding together their tent, crashing upon the dock to avoid the rapids, and bringing out the heart of the oldest woman in town to connect into their circle of truth.  Really, enchanting. 

Gschwandtner has a way with words.  Some of my favorite quotes from the book (which I've posted to Facebook as I read) were:

"But that’s the way it works sometimes. You’re on a path and all of a sudden, another path veers off to the side and you have to decide which way to proceed, even though you can’t know what’s at the end of either one."

"I am now a permanently disgruntled person. I ruminated on the word, one of those negative words that should have a positive opposite but doesn’t. Could you feel gruntled?"  (This CRACKED ME UP!!)

"Is there ever a time when everything stands still and gives a person time to get her bearings back?"

"I soon discovered that a garden was a needy being. Like having quintuplets that cried all the time."

I found these expression pithy and worthy of great writing.  

But there was more in her book.  Words that made me think, made me contemplate my own being and who I was (ahhh - there's that deeper truth in this book...).  I recall her writing, "I thought about what I was like back then. The teenage angst years. Rebellious. So sure I knew what I wanted. Where was that chin-stuck-out-at-the-world girl now? A disgruntled woman who couldn’t decide which direction her life should take."  And I wondered, is this me?  When I was young I had it all mapped out, what I was going to do, where I was going to go, and how I was going to get there.  Now, I live by-the-seat-of-my-pants floating through a moment to moment existence because that is the life the Army has taught me.  And it's a good life.  But, is there a happy medium between what I used to be and what I am now?  Where did that girl go?  Am I disgruntled?  (A little, but that's about work and that's another blog entirely).

As these women became closer in the story (a life-threatening camp-out will do that to you), Gschwandtner also writes,  

"That’s the way life is. It’s a big puzzle where the pieces never seem to fit together and you keep sorting through it and trying one piece here and another piece there and sometimes you fit a few together and a picture starts to form. But then you can’t quite manage the edges and the picture stays half formed. And the puzzle pieces may be lying all over the table of your life in front of you but there are other extraneous puzzle pieces that don’t seem to go anywhere...[you] examine them and think, well, where did that one come from and what does it mean and how does it fit into the others? Then you see a bright colored one over on the corner of the table so you try to fit all the brightly-colored ones together. Some of them fit and others don’t and you get even more confused because someone once told you that the brightly colored ones should go together. But then you see that they don’t always. So you try a different way to fit them together. And just when you think you’re so confused you should just run your arm across the table and push the whole thing off, you find a piece that fits into another piece and all at once you have a picture that makes sense."

And don't we? Try to make all the puzzle pieces fit together in some perfect arrangement of what we expect life to be.  It never is.  I have a completely eclectic group of friends and I love them.  The bright pieces clash with the earth tones yet somehow blend to create beautiful harmony and these are the moments that keep me from running my arm over the table and scrapping the whole thing.

The one thing certain about life pointed out in the quaint piece of literature is that no matter how hard we try to avoid it, change is going to happen and we MUST be able to move with "the river" or it will swallow us up.  

"You can’t move forward if you’re constantly looking back. Change is the only constant on the river and that’s the way it is in life. No guarantees. Only promises and pledges. Life is full of them."

The book definitely falls under the "women's literature" category, and I think it's a good read for all women that have found themselves fortunate enough to be in a group of ladies they call friends. I laughed, I cried, and I saw myself in the women of this book.  I saw my friends, too.  I've more than once wanted to write a novel that would be a mash-up of my two circles of friends, ones that I've known since I was a child and the others that have stepped into my life and been my saving grace as an adult.  Clearly, the idea has been done, but I still think that women's friendships are something worth reading about.  When they are good, their power is beyond measure.  

The Naked Gardener makes you stop and question yourself and the connections you have with other people; especially woman to woman.  


  1. It is such a joy to discover that a total stranger found meaning and pleasure reading my work. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.
    And my name IS impossible.

  2. Thank you for writing such a wonderful book that I couldn't put down - I even sneaked in some reading at school while students were testing!!! I love books about women making real friendships, there isn't enough out there.

  3. Such a great review! Thanks!