by Maggie Marr
Welcome to the second week of the Girlfriends Book Club Sunday Book Review
The Garden of Happy Endings by Barbara O'Neal (reviewed by Maggie Marr)
I am a big fan of Barbara O'Neal. A rich story-teller at the top of her game, O'Neal has won multiple awards for her prose and has over twenty books in print. I am especially fond of her last three books:
The Lost Recipe for Happiness, The Secret of Everything, and How To Bake The Perfect Life. All three books have the great alchemy of complex and interesting characters placed in complex and interesting circumstances. They each contain strong women characters that are poignant and flawed and real. The individuals populating these books jump off the page fully formed.
In The Garden of Happy Endings the characters and story are just as real and unique. The book centers around Reverend Elsa Montgomery, and her crisis of faith. After a tragedy shatters her small community in Seattle, Elsa returns to her hometown of Pueblo, Colorado where she attempts to regain her faith.
Elsa's sister Tamsin, also has her own crisis of faith in that her marriage and life have been shattered by her husband's deception and disappearance.
Both women work with a long time family friend, and Elsa's former lover, now a Catholic priest, to create a community garden. It is in creating this place--the garden--that contains hope and community and sustenance that all the characters regain their own sense of faith.
I am not necessarily a religious person when it comes to organized religion however I would classify myself as spiritual, faithful, and devout. Therefore when I began to read The Garden of Happy Endings and discovered that the book's main character was a Reverend a part of me initially recoiled, fearing perhaps that I would be subject to some sort of pontificating as to religion from the author.
This was not the case.
Instead O'Neal uses her characters to deftly shows that our Spirit transcends the box that is organized religion. We see within the pages that true faith need not and can not be contained by the confines, rules, and regulations as proscribed by the man-made construct of any one organized religion. True faith, as evidenced by the characters within the work each coming from different backgrounds; Agnosticism, Unity, Catholicsm, transcends all that our humble human minds and thus our human constructs can hold. It is true faith in G-d, (or whatever Higher Power in which you choose to believe) the true Spirit that lives in each of us, that enables us to touch the divine.
I was pleased to discover that due to O'Neal's unique and exceptional abilities as a story-teller that I especially enjoyed the themes of spirituality and faith. How our faith can be shaken to its very core, and yet we may have opportunity, through service to others, to find if not our original sense of faith a newer, deeper, meaning due to the very trauma that we endure.
Also fundamental to my enjoyment was how O'Neal did not relegate faith to the dominion of only one belief system but acknowledges through her characters that there are multiple ways up the mountain to Spirit.
Ultimately in The Garden of Happy Endings, it is the characters faith, reawakened through caring for their fellow man and their community, that allows them to find their way back from all the events that shake their individual belief systems. The renewing power of love, community, service, earth, sunshine, and joy each take a turn in helping the characters grow and return to the light.
I loved this book. I recommend The Garden of Happy Endings to anyone who wants a wonderful read that is all encompassing (I could not put the book down) and enriching.
Maggie Marr is an attorney and the author of Hollywood Girls Club, Secrets of The Hollywood Girls Club , Can't Buy Me Love and the soon to be released Courting Trouble (Oct. 2012). She also writes for film and television. She lives in Los Angeles.