Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Garden of Happy Endings by Barbara O'Neal

After tragedy shatters her small community in Seattle, the reverend Elsa Montgomery has a crisis of faith. Returning to her home town of Pueblo, Colorado, she takes refuge in a local soup kitchen. Preparing nourishing meals for folks in need, she keeps her hands busy while her heart searches for understanding.

Meanwhile, her sister, Tamsin, as pretty and colorful as Elsa is unadorned and steadfast, finds her perfect life shattered when she learns her financier husband is a criminal. Enduring shock and humiliation as her beautiful house and possessions are seized, the woman who had everything now has nothing but the clothes on her back.

But when the going gets tough, the tough get growing. A community garden in the poorest, roughest part of town becomes a lifeline. Creating a place of hope and sustenance opens Elsa and Tamsin to the renewing power of rich earth, sunshine, and the warm cleansing rain of tears. While Elsa finds her heart blooming in the care of a rugged landscaper, Tamsin discovers the joy of losing herself in the act of giving—and both women discover that with time and care, happy endings flourish.(Synopsis from B&

Random House, Trade Publication, 418 pages    5/5 bookmarks

Wow, what a thought provoking book this is. Elsa is a minister in a Seattle church who finds herself questioning her calling after the murder of one of her parishioners.  Elsa has had a long history of being disappointed by God, starting with her run in with a misogynist Catholic priest in her youth.
After being told by her church council that she needs to take a sabbatical, she ends up working with her lifelong friend, Joaquin, now a priest in their home town. She has a history with Father Jack, which led to one of her breaks with God, but they have both worked through it... or so they think. Elsa finds herself working on a community garden and developing an attraction to Deacon, the landscaper who is helping the church set up the garden.
I read this book the same week a young child was killed in a horrific accident in our state. I had a discussion with two co-workers about how hard I found it to believe that God would have a plan for us that could include such a terrible thing. Elsa has the same questions in this book.  She has kept her faith in God for most of her life even when it has been hard to do so-she has turned her back on Him but came back every time. I think that Ms. O’Neal does an excellent job in portraying the anguish that a person with a religious calling would have when they question whether their own faith is strong enough to keep going.  That said the book is hopeful and positive even as Elsa is struggling.
There is a side plot involving Tamsin, Elsa’s sister, who loses everything overnight when her financier husband disappears and is subsequently discovered to have bilked people out of millions of dollars. Tamsin has a crisis of physical loss-she has no money, no home, no job and no hope of getting any of those things in the immediate future.  Her daughter is overseas and has no idea of what is happening so Tamsin has the additional burden of keeping her circumstance a secret from her own child.
As always, Ms. O’Neal gives us a story with many layers that we can relate to even if our situation is not the same as the main character. Her characters survive life’s vagaries and find their own brand of happiness.  Isn’t that what we all strive for?

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