As I read the first pages of Susan Tekulve’s In the Garden of Stone, the image of my grandmother as a young girl came to mind – the details of washday and baking day evoked the beautiful rich stories of everyday life my grandmother once told me of when she was a girl.
In the Garden of Stone is a novel in stories, which for a writer can be daunting and risky. Many readers favor a traditional plot that remains with the same character throughout the novel, but in Tekulve’s novel, it is the land that binds the passing generations.
Tekulve sets the novel in a coal town in the Appalachian mountains. The story begins in 1924 with Emma as a young woman, “sixteen, old enough to work like a woman alongside her mother and speak her mind.” Later you see Emma as an old woman, ravaged by the same disease that incapacitated her mother, but there is still that quiet strength and resolve that remains with her throughout her life.
The story ends almost fifty years later. The changing landscape continues to resonate with beauty and history throughout the pages of the novel. With each passing generation, the way of life changes — the coal mines close and a new way of life emerges. But for some, the land remains a source of pride and heritage.
The story is told through the perspectives of Emma, the matriarch; Dean, her son; Sadie, Dean’s wife; and Hannah, the daughter of Dean and Sadie. I found the transition and influence of each passing generation mesmerizing. You could see how Emma’s choices and life continued to influence her child and grandchild.
Character, plot, and setting all come together like a prize winning recipe to make a good story. I’ve had the privilege of having Susan as my teacher and mentor. She’s an excellent creative writing teacher because she is an excellent writer. It was amazing to see her applying the principles she teaches so well.
Susan Tekulve is the winner of the South Carolina First Novel prize. In the Garden of Stone is published by Hub City Press.
If you would like to read more about Susan and her culinary skills, follow the link for an earlier post for Appalachian Wedding Cake.