Wednesday, July 25, 2012

287 (2012 #32). The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns

by Margaret Dilloway

I read Dilloway's debut novel, How to Be an American Housewife, last year and really liked it, so I was really looking forward to this book.   While reading it, I found the main character, Galilee "Gal" Garner, to be as thorny and high-maintenance as the roses she grows and breeds.  But by the time I finished, Gal (and the book) had grown on me.

Thirty-six year-old Gal, single and childless, is suffering from kidney failure.  She's had two transplants so far and is awaiting a third.  In the meantime, she's in her eighth year of dialysis, which requires her spending every other night at a dialysis center, even when she travels.  The requirements of her health condition, and her job as an advanced biology teacher at a Catholic high school, make for a very regimented life, which spills over to her care of her beloved roses.

Gal is breeding Hulthemias, a rose variety (actually not a true rose) that have distinctive blotches of darker color at the heart, the base of the petals.  They aren't easy to grow or breed, according to Gal (on page 3 of the advance reader edition):

"Difficult and obstinate. Thriving under a set of specific and limited conditions. That pretty much describes me. Maybe that's why I like these roses so much."

Her goal is to create a repeat-bloomer with fragrance and take it to market, so this is more than a hobby for her.

Gal has one close friend, a fellow teacher named Dara, and is also still close to her parents, who live about a day's drive away.  Understandably, they've worried about her all her life, perhaps at the expense of their other daughter, Becky, who had a daughter (Riley) out of wedlock.  Becky's also had problems with drugs and alcohol, and is not close to the rest of her family.

Then Becky sends teenaged Riley to live with Gal when she heads overseas for a job opportunity.  Being responsible for Riley has some positive effects on Gal, and it's heartwarming to see the changes.

As in How to Be an American Housewife, Dilloway builds in excerpts from another fictional guidebook, this time a mythical rose-growing guide, the author of which later appears in the novel.  She also includes some pages from Gal's rose-breeding notebook, although the latter could have used a little more explanation.

And, like her first novel, Dilloway is once again writing what she knows.  Gal is based on Dilloway's sister-in-law Deborah, who suffered from kidney failure and went through three transplants, but sadly passed away in December 2011.  Dilloway  also experienced sudden guardianship of her teenage nephew when she had no children of her own, much the way Gal does for Riley.  For her rose breeding information, she corresponded with an expert, Jim Sproul.

This advance reader edition came with a cool bookmark of the beautiful book cover (pictured at left), with sweet alyssum and baby's breath seeds embedded in the paper.  It's a little too hot (high of 107 last Saturday) and dry right now for seedlings, so I will probably plant these next spring.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, which asked only for a review posted there in return.  The book will be passed on to a friend to enjoy.]

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