“Flora – a novel” by Gail Godwin

I loved this book! It was another of those recommended by my friend who participates in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society book club (see July 1).

This story takes the form of a memoir. The narrator is an elderly woman looking back into her childhood. Helen was a precocious ten year old being raised by her father and grandmother. Toward the end of World War II, her grandmother dies and her father departs to work on construction at the site in Oak Ridge, TN, where the United States is building “the bomb”.

Helen’s father enlists a relative (Flora) to come and stay with Helen for the summer. Everything goes wrong for Helen, climaxing in a fatal auto accident for which Helen feels responsible.

What’s good about this book?

It takes a child seriously. Helen works hard at figuring out her family and her friendships.

This book contains wonderful “sub stories”. Helen and her grandmother have been in the habit of listening to radio dramas. Two are recounted in the story. Helen creates a classroom full of imaginary children to help Flora prepare for her career as a teacher.

What I can’t figure out is why the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society would choose this book. It has almost nothing to do with gardens or plants. Helen cuts down some grass with kitchen scissors. An old path is overgrown with weeds. I must be missing something important. Flora is a lovely name, but there must be more than that!

I enjoyed Godwin’s “The Good Husband” about ten years ago, and plan to look at more of her writing.


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