Darlene Blasing: Bargain Paradise (Muskegon, Michigan: Argon Press, 2014) www.darleneblasing.com
Bargain Paradise by Darlene Blasing is a story for lovers of gardening and the rural life, and for those of us who are curious and dream about gardening. When reviewing a work, I usually focus on the philosophical elements in a story. This time I’m looking at a story about a woman’s obsession with gardening, and the story has an ethical theme too. I chose to review this work precisely because I love gardening and everything that it involves more or less: encountering numerous plant and animal species, selecting pollinators, starting seeds, planting seedlings, dealing with insects, caring for sick plants and watching everything grow, along with the satisfaction you feel when you finally see the results of your hard work and sweat. Bargain Paradise portrays working in the garden so vividly, and it’s such a funny story.
One day Loretta Evans, the main protagonist, discovered a demolition site in her community where bulldozers were destroying every single plant and shrub—what a waste of beautiful landscaping—and she was determined to rescue everything! Loretta managed to get a deal: she could have all the plants and shrubs for free, and she only had to dig up everything and haul it home in her dilapidated, rusty old pickup truck. The first rescue attempt was only the beginning of something much bigger. Every week there was a new demolition site from which Loretta could salvage plants and shrubs. Oh, she was so happy!
Despite the overwhelming physical labor involved, Loretta surprisingly becomes more energetic, happier and relaxed. She feels like her real self again. However, Loretta’s husband Jerry doesn’t share her enthusiasm and he becomes increasingly disenchanted. Jerry is the kind of guy who likes routine, and after a long day at the office expects to have a warm home-cooked meal. A few new plants on their property he considered to be more than enough. Jerry doesn’t particularly appreciate or understand the sense of achievement that his wife feels for the hard work she’s put into the gardening project. Loretta’s work is certainly beautiful, but Jerry simply cannot comprehend how Loretta can work every single day, barely eating and not regularly doing house chores or cooking nice dinners—working late into the night planting and watering the new plants and shrubs. Similarily, Julie, Loretta’s friend who also admires the landscaping project, even offers to help. Doing a little bit of dirty work is one thing, however, Julie doesn’t have motivation on the scale of Loretta’s. Neither can Julie understand why Loretta is pushing herself to the maximum. Why does anyone need to have forty acres entirely filled with flowering plants and shrubs?
How will Jerry continue coping with his wife’s obsessive gardening? Loretta certainly has a strong work ethic and determination. And Loretta won’t stop until she gets what she wants: a grand garden, the likes of an English estate garden. It’s obvious to everyone around Loretta: she’s obsessed with her gardening to the point where it dominates everything in her life. For Jerry, it’s the fear of the forty acres!
Darlene Blasing is just as determined as her protagonist: All of her scenes are meant to captivate the gardener and wanna be gardener in us, as well as continuously instilling in our imagination all those things that could make a typical day’s work in the garden so pleasurable and gratifying. The humor in this story is wonderfully portrayed. As every scene unfolds you never know what to expect. I couldn’t stop laughing
There is something to be learned from this story. First, try not to work so hard, give things some time. But then again, for those of us who are passionate about what we do, telling us not to work so hard simply won’t be comprehended nor appreciated! Second, it’s always good to save and recycle things and make the best effort to do so. Third, we ought to find a compromise even if it seems impossible to do so. And perhaps we ought to strive to find the middle ground between excess and deficiency, always being aware and conscientious.
Those who would enjoy reading Darlene Blasing’s story the most would surely be the ones who share a love of gardening, getting their hands dirty and relishing the smell of fresh earth. Even if you aren’t into gardening, the passion and drive of Loretta will encourage you to think deeply about it. Maybe you’ll even take up gardening yourself!
By Karin Susan Fester, September 26, 2017
Book cover image courtesy of Darlene Blasing www.darleneblasing.com