The Stone Flower Garden
by Deborah Smith, contemporary (2003)
Warner, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61265-0


The Stone Flower Garden is like a watered-down imitation of A Place To Call Home. Since A Place To Call Home is one of my least favorite Deborah Smith books, this is not a compliment where The Stone Flower Garden is concerned. Structurally, both books are familiar.

Darleen Union Hardigree, pretty in pink, and Eli Wade, the stonecutter's son, met when they are just kids - she's seven and he's ten when she steps in to help him beat off the bullies that are heckling his sister. These two kids spend the next three years falling in love until Darl learns of the tangled, convoluted family secrets that bind their families together. A violent tragedy tears them apart until they meet again twenty-five years later. She's an adult who throws herself into defending people on the death row while he's a stonking millionaire. His sister is trying to pull out all the old skeletons in their closets, and now these two will have to figure out what to do with each other now that all cards at down at the table.

I'm being deliberately vague on plot because this book is one of those books that have to be read in a condition of spoiler-free as much as possible. There are so many intriguing secrets that come out of the Hardigree matriach's closet like a skeletal cabaret line. I'll see if I can line out the problems I have with this book without giving away too much.

One of my problems here is Deborah Smith's use of first person point of view (Darl's) mixed with third person's (everyone else's). What's the point? I want to ask in this case, because the multiple points of view in this book doesn't seem to serve any purpose. I still have no clear picture of who Darl and Eli are at the end of the book, so the whole stylistics of the narration seem gratuitous. Also, while I understand the reasons that cause them to remain fixated on reliving their past, I am not at all happy at the author using a contrived plot device to further the conflict between her characters. Like A Place Called Home, the adult hero deliberately keeps the adult heroine in the dark for too long and too unnecessarily, and I resent this. While the young Eli is a charming Gus Pike stereotype, the adult Eli is a less interesting millionaire/can-do-anything stereotype. The young Darl is engaging, the adult Darl is a whiny mess. The resolution of the story is too neat, too clean.

This book is still readable. In fact, the dark, often violent undercurrents here remind me of the real spirit of those Ya-Ya books, you know, before Hollywood and romance authors take over and mutate Ya-Ya into some Shania Twain Gone Romance schlockfest, But there are much better Deborah Smith books out there for curious readers wanting to try the author's books. The Stone Flower Garden is just not the author on a good day. Fortunately, it is easier to find a good Deborah Smith book than a clunker out there.

Rating: 72


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