Learning to Think About Other People
Margaret Dilloway is a long time BlogHer community member, and I loved her first book, How to Be an American Housewife, but I let her new novel The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns languish on my to-be-read pile. Sometimes, when I've really loved a debut novel, I am scared to read the author's second book. I will get excited about it, buy it, and then leave it on my nightstand for days worried I won't like it. After picking up The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, I promptly kicked myself in the backside for not picking it up sooner. I absolutely adored the main character, Gal Garner.
Galilee "Gal" Garner is a science teacher at a small private Catholic school and an amateur rose breeder. She also happens to have kidney disease and is on dialysis. She's been on dialysis for eight years. Her life is split up between the regimen of her dialysis treatments, her days teaching at school and her free time she can spend with her roses. Gal has been sick almost her entire life, and her greenhouse is the one place she feels whole.
"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." Page 3
Gal is a difficult character, and it takes a bit of time to warm up to her. She's abrupt, always has an opinion and frequently puts a toe over the line into plain being mean. She's smart, and due to that she is often correct when it comes to details. The one things she really fails at is her relationships with people. She's quick to judge and slow to admit she's wrong.
Gal's people skills get a crash course when her teenaged niece, Riley, whom she hasn't seen in many years, shows up unexpectedly at Gal's school and announces she's come to stay. Gal's sister, Becky, has to travel to Asia to work and can't bring Riley with her. Having another person around all the time makes Gal see that maybe it's not just her illness holding her back -- maybe it's her. Maybe, just like the Hulthemia roses she loves to grow, Gal just needs a little love in her life, but being Gal neither giving nor receiving love comes easily.
"Sometimes a little tough love is good." -- Winslow Blythe, preface
One of the the things I loved about Margaret Dilloway's first novel, How to Be an American Housewife were the snippets of text from a book about American housekeeping for Japanese brides. I was happy Dillloway uses this same device in The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by highlighting text from the fictional Complete Rose Guide (SoCal Edition) by Winslow Blythe. It gets even better when Blythe shows up as a character.
The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns is a fabulous sophomore effort from Margaret Dilloway, and I'm thrilled that with this book she becomes the very first repeat author in BlogHer Book Club's history. We'll be discussing this novel for the next month. Join the conversation and be sure to also check out our discussions of her first novel, How to Be an American Housewife.