Tending Roses
by Lisa Wingate

New American Library, 2001. ISBN 0451203070.
Reviewed by Donna Van Straten Remmert
Posted on 05/24/2004

Fiction: Mainstream

I sometimes wonder why so many of us have so little time to "smell the roses." Shouldn't the efficiency that comes with advanced technology allow us a great deal more time than was available to people in previous generations? Lisa Wingate explores this and other issues between the generations in her novel, Tending Roses, published by New American Library, a branch of Penquin Putnam dedicated to subjects close to a woman's heart. Her inspiration for writing Tending Roses came from the actual experience of helping her grandmother plant her garden. She explains this on her website.

In a nutshell, Lisa's fictional story is about the value of wanting less to have more. Katie Bowman, a career obsessed woman, and her husband Ben are persuaded by Lisa's family to pack up immediately and go take care of Grandma Rose. Katie is still on maternity leave from have given birth to her son Joshua, so the intrusion into their lives isn't as great as it would be for others in the family. Grandma needs watching because she has almost set her house on fire and can't be trusted to live alone anymore. The rest of the family agrees to come for Christmas, three weeks away, and together they'll decide where to put Grandma and what to do with her home and everything in it.

Ben's work can be done off his computer so he's not bothered by the upset. Katie, however, is quite irritated by the assignment, and she doesn't look forward to being with her cranky grandmother who is always lecturing about something costing too much or not being done right. Gradually, Katie's perspective changes as she listens to Grandma Rose preach her values. Her sermons, in fact, contain the solution to her financial and marital problems as well as to the conflict she feels over the balance of career and motherhood.

As the family arrives to celebrate Christmas and place Grandma in a nursing home, the author brilliantly shows us each family member's perspective. As we go through each day, we see everyone's priorities and realize the extent to which each person creates his or her own misery, by not noticing the beauty of the moment and by missing opportunities for connecting to one another. Katie, meanwhile, notices that Grandma's journal is always left out in the open, begging to be read. When she finally takes the hint, she begins to understand why Grandma is so thrifty and constantly preaches about being satisfied with the simple pleasures in life, without always wanting more. "I wish I had not spent my hours worrying over another nickel for the carousel, but instead running barefoot through the fields of yellow bonnets," writes Grandma Rose. Katie realizes that Grandma's childhood and adult hardships have shaped her, and as she begins to apply Grandma's stories to her own life, she experiences a serenity she's never before felt. This new feeling in Katie becomes the deciding factor over what to do with Grandma.

Tending Roses is a heartwarming and sometimes humorous look at the way families fall apart and then learn to heal. Lisa Wingate creates complex characters with honesty and integrity. And, her use of metaphor to help us feel her story is remarkable.

I loved this book because it has given me a new resolve to stay on track with my intentions for living my own life. My roses are just outside my study door. Just as soon as I finish this sentence, I'm going outside to smell them.

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