Drawing upon the perspective of gardener and governor’s family in a historic Tennessee mansion, Denise Hildreth Jones‘ novel The First Gardener examines the faithful response to overwhelming tragedy. Interspersed with humor, patience, and Southern pride, it is an easy read for such a difficult subject.
The family of Gray London, governor of Tennessee, fills the mansion with light faith, laughter, and familial joy. Then an auto accident strikes, and all are affected, beginning with Gray’s wife Mackenzie, mother to Maddie, their only child. In the wake of the accident, their faith, family, and even functioning are challenged – to exist, even to make it past this terror. The joy of the book is the soulful gardener Jeremiah, who monitors both the plants of the mansion, and tends gently with the inhabitants by gifts from his greenhouse. Mackenzie’s mother Eugenia, with her gaggle of elderly girlfriends, rounds out the support system with laughter and nearly impossible Southern spirit.
I found the novel thoughtfully written, the faith fully functional with deep trials, and the interactions sincere. There were points that found me laughing out loud, and Jeremiah’s quiet reflections about the Lord were balm, while his idiomatic speech was a bit strained at times. The first sentence, “The sides a my bologna gone and curled up in that cast-iron skillet when a pop a grease splattered out.” I almost laid the book down. I did also struggle with the trials, because the well-drawn characters made me hurt with them, and for them, but I thought the author’s conclusions were well drawn. Pulling through infertility, pride, denial, depression, adultery, or death, Jones does not take the easy way out on any topic, and the journey is worth a few bumps.
As this is not her first book, you may enjoy the author’s website, which includes the first chapter to most of her prior writings.
I rate this book 3 stars, for enjoyable Christian contemporary fiction, and was pleased to receive a complimentary copy for which to complete my review from Tyndale Blogging Network, of Tyndale House Publishing. You are welcome to join their team!