Just when Helen thinks she can take charge of her life, a devil-hunting itinerant preacher upsets the delicate balance she has managed in a family locked in secrets and headed for trouble. When Helen breaks down, her husband, Richard, angry and ashamed, commits her to a mental institution without telling their children where their mother has gone. Lillian's Garden is a novel about failure and finding redemption through learning how to ask for what you want and accepting what love has given you.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
It always makes me nervous when I pick up a book by an author I'm acquainted with. What if I don't like it? I'm a terrible liar and I would hate to hurt someone's feelings. When I picked up Lillian's Garden, a very unassuming book with a plain cover, I kept it quiet. If I didn't like it, I could just pretend I hadn't read it and no one would be the wiser.
On the first page, a jolting POV shift made me almost want to put it down. Whose story was it, I grumbled to myself, Linda's or Helen's? But since the writing was otherwise good, I kept reading and was soon swept up by Helen's plight and the interesting dynamics of this dysfunctional family.
Past the halfway mark, I couldn't put it down, stayed up past midnight, sobbed over the characters. Now, I am loathe to pick up another book, because I can't quite let go of these guys. They captured my heart, in a way that my favorite books do.
I hesitated to give it the full five stars, because of that first paragraph (POV shift) and because of some minor typos. But I decided that I could overlook these trivial flaws in favor of telling the world that this is a really great book. If you like character-driven fiction geared for women, try this book. And don't be put off by that first paragraph. And don't let yourself get to the middle of the book too late at night. ~ womenswrites, Amazon.com
In this earnest but prosaic story of an early-1960s woman in conflict, Helen Nichols, mother of teenagers Tommy and Linda, husband to Richard, stands out in her small Midwestern town. Linda’s classmates call Helen “crazy”; what emerges is a mix of existential angst and bipolar disorder. Helen yearns for something, but other than the pleasures of the eponymous garden, begun by her beloved mother-in-law Lillian, Helen can’t find it—not in her hard-working husband, scarred by WWII; not in her fire-and-brimstone “Freewill Baptist” church; maybe, if only a little bit, in her children. This first novel reads more like a memoir than a fictional narrative; episodic, remembered, and not fully realized. The garden becomes a rich metaphor thanks to the book’s most vivid (but least convincing) character, the lay preacher “Devil hunter” Joe Nathan, who finds it “full of pride” and compares Helen to Eve. In a surprising twist, Helen leaves her family, but it’s more manic episode than liberating moment. ~ Publishers Weekly
Deep, enriching, fascinating and completely enjoyable Lillian’s Garden will long remain with you as a beautiful story of love, hope renewal and survival. ~ Blue Wolf Reviews, http://www.bluewolf-reviews.com/
In her novel, Lillian’s Garden, Carrie Knowles creates characters so real they seem to have walked into your kitchen in a town you have inhabited for years. This novel is a contemporary Our Town. It is also a novel of the sixties, a novel about motherhood, a novel about women and madness. Perhaps most surprising (given the title and the novel’s setting in small-town America, a woman’s kitchen, her garden), it is a novel of Vietnam. But like Virginia Woolf, Knowles tells a war story as most women experience it: through absences. The garden itself weaves all of these stories together in a spell-binding mystery of love, loss, and reconciliation. The novel is a rich and rewarding tapestry of life and death and continuance.
Elaine Neil Orr
Professor, English, North Carolina State University
Academy of Outstanding Teachers
Author of A Different Sun: A Novel of Africa (Berkley/Penguin 2013); Gods of Noonday: A White Girl's African Life (UVaP 2003); Subject to Negotiation: Reading Feminist Criticism and American Women's Fictions (UVaP 1997); Tillie Olsen and a Feminist Spiritual Vision (UMissP 1987) ~ Elaine Orr, writer/professor
Lillian's Garden is the story of a wounded father, a resilient daughter and her runaway mother. Carrie Knowles' Lillian's Garden is gorgeously rich and sensuous writing about home and garden, family and loss: a redemptive story about a woman with abandonment at the center of her being. ~ Peggy Payne, Author, Sister India and Cobalt Blue
Carrie Knowles' novel, Lillian's Garden, is a complex and intriguing depiction of how the very qualities that attract us to each other may also result in friction. Her book presents very valuable wisdom through fiction---how beautiful things in life may also lead to pain and vice versa. ~ Lucy Daniels, author, clinical psychologist
Lillian's Garden is a poignant and moving story of depression, religious ideals, and the places they intersect. Told with rich and sensuous language, Lillian's Garden brings to life the individual stories that made the tragedy of places like Eloise Hospital so memorable. Guilt and redemption play a large role in all of our lives, and seldom has that story been better told.
~ D.E. Johnson, Author, Detroit Breakdown
Just finished Carrie Knowles' newest, "Lillian's Garden". When a woman jumps from the frying pan to the fire, what happens as the family she leaves behind gets caught in the hellfire splatter that follows? The book's not about Lillian, or about her daughter-in-law. It's about the ghosts their family deals with when these women go away, but never really leave. Everyday life in this Michigan family is awfully close to the everyday life we see all around us, but Carrie takes us inside their heads, inside their lives and inside ourselves. ~ Jim Maney, retired adjunct professor at North Carolina State University