Laura Boggess Writes a Delight of a Story (Spoilers Below)
Mildred Ruffner lives in a small town in West Virginia, not far from Charleston. She and a good friend are preparing to open a bed-and-breakfast and retreat center, with a highlight being a beautiful garden. The garden provides a respite from a 15-year-old pain—being abandoned by the boy she thought she’d spend the rest of her life with.
Sam Gillenwater is a Nashville singer, doing so well that his newest album is considered a top contender for a Grammy. He’s preparing for a tour when his “sort-of” girlfriend Heather overdoses on heroin in Sam’s apartment and is hospitalized. They both had known their relationship, once close, was going nowhere.
Mildred and Sam had met face to face once, at one of Sam’s concerts. But their relationship begins to grow on Instagram, after Sam almost impulsively follows Mildred on the platform, something he reserves for only the closest of friends and family. Something begins to emerge in their posts and messages to each other. That something is romance. And soon they’ll discover they share something powerful—a national heritage.
It would be too easy to describe Mildred’s Garden by Laura Boggess as a romance. It certainly is that, but it’s also more than what that genre label might imply. It’s a story about music, Nashville life, the natural beauty of West Virginia, the Vietnamese boat people, and poetry.
It’s about poetry because that’s what Sam writes; it just so happens that his poems become the songs he sings. Sam’s beautiful poems are to be published by T.S. Poetry Press as a small separate work from Mildred’s Garden in October, but enough of them are included here for the reader to know the kind of music Sam sings—soft, gentle music that comes from the heart. The poems are lovely; the story is a delight.
Boggess works as a counselor at a medical rehabilitation center in West Virginia, where she focuses on individuals and families experiencing traumatic medical diagnoses. She is also the author of Waiting for Neruda’s Memoirs.
Mildred’s Garden is relatively short for a novel—192 pages. I’ll confess that I became so wrapped up in the story that I consumed it in one easy-to-read sitting. And then I went back and reread it more slowly, understanding how Boggess built interest and suspense. I was left with the distinct impression that she loved writing this story, not least because it’s largely set in the state she loves.
And there are Sam’s poems. The publication in October of those in Mildred’s Garden, and anticipation for those yet to be published, have convinced me that October can’t come too soon.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
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