Take good care of the Garden and the Dogs, Heather Lende

This book has numerous positive reviews from places like the Los Angelos Times and the Boston Globe. For that reason I expected to like it. Unfortunately, I didn’t.

The topic is well put by the subtitle: A true story of bad breaks and small miracles. The context of the authors life is summarized by the title of a previous book of hers: ‘If you lived here, I’d know your name’.

Psychologists tell us we can keep track of about 150 people at a time. That includes family, friends, colleges, movie stars and soap opera characters. My 150 people live all over the world.
Heather Lende’s 150 people mostly live in a small town in Alaska.

When she gets run over by a truck, the driver is someone she knows. If you or I get run over by a truck, we’re lucky if the person who did it, stops by the hospital with flowers even once.

The reason this book gets 5 star reviews is I think:

  • It’s well written
  • It describes a life we all long for, are all programmed for
  • It is upbeat, even while describing the bad breaks of life

Well written doesn’t require an explanation. What does is that despite it being well written, I could not finish it.

That 150 people we know stuff has something to do with it. For most of human evolution we lived in communities of about that size. We’re programmed for that social situation: the gossip, the social pressure, the community support, knowing people from cradle to grave.

But for most of us, living in towns and cities, online contacts, perhaps self employed like me, that’s just not our life.

Which brings me to the upbeat part. I guess it’s possible to write upbeat about the sorrows of life, but reading it like that was heart wrenching. One reviewer on Amazon said that the book just was dark and oppressive. I can relate to that. I’m not sure what it is about the style that seems both upbeat, and makes one feel the darkness so.

Perhaps it’s merely that the world she describes is just too far from my own. And while I enjoy reading the occasional trashy love story, to the eternal shame of my family, I would not dream of describing them as ‘spiritual’. They’re just too unrealistic.

I’ve also enjoyed reading about hospice work: it’s not that I don’t face up to the unpleasant aspects of life. In fact, I expect my more nurturing side will be involved with volunteer work with elderly people after my grandmother passes (who I visit weekly at present).

However, for some reason, this book does not speak to that side of me at all. Perhaps it just feels too self-congratulatory. Or not enough in touch with the hard sides of life. Or too much so? I’m not sure.

It’s clear Heather Lende has found a way of life that fits her perfectly. She lives in a small town while having a professional writing career: her talents get expressed. She enjoys the social support in the community, plays her part in it, and doesn’t feel stifled by the social pressure.

Her life is, in short, so extraordinary in it’s balance that it seems like fiction. It doesn’t tell us anything about how we might bring more balance into our own lives, because you know… we can’t all move to Alaska. There are reasons we live in cities. There are reasons our communities have to be created, instead of just being there.

From the reviews on Amazon, it seems this is the kind of book that people either love or hate. For me though, it’s the first in my new category of ‘not recommended’.

For the spiritual perspective, I guess it’s relevant to add that the author is a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor.