Ruby Jewell credits flowers for saving her from the intense grief that paralyzed her after the death of her sister, Daisy. For the past twenty years she has kept others at arms length while healing their hearts and souls with her amazing floral arrangements. However, when a hurting young boy comes into The Flower Shoppe, an aging astronaut offers deep friendship, and her lab, Clementine, has an encounter with a porcupine that brings her into close contact with the new vet Ruby’s heart finally re-opens much like the arrangements she coaxes to bloom.
I expected The Art of Arranging Flowers to be a romance novel from the first blurb I read about the book, so I was quite surprised that it opened with a heart breaking description of loss and debilitating depression. Ruby’s story also isn’t really about romantic love although she finds as the story progresses. Instead Branard chooses to focus on communal love that a group can have for an integral member and how, over time, that love teaches her to love herself.
I sympathized with Ruby throughout the story, but I can’t say I truly identified with her because I have been fortunate enough to never deal closely with the horrors of addiction. Ruby is broken and shut down because her mother was an alcoholic, her father was absent, and her beloved sister, Daisy, inherited her mother’s temperament and died from heroin usage. It’s clear that Ruby still sees Daisy as the social butterfly, and she tells herself that she is contented to sit on the sidelines using her flowers to create and mend relationships around her. However, the residents of Creekside see a lonely woman who won’t open her heart for fear of hurting again, but they stay silent since Ruby never asks for advice.
My favourite character are tied between Will, Clementine, and Dan. Will is a hurt little boy who moves back to Creekside after his addicted mother finally overdoses. Like Ruby he is shut down, but the child learns how to ask for what he wants and needs much more quickly than his adult counterpart. I especially appreciated his love for Clementine, Ruby’s dog, because as an animal rescuer, I’ve known for many years that animals can heal in ways beyond human comprehension. Clementine was easy to like because she’s an even tempered yellow lab whose only vice is chasing cats. She’s more of a plot point than a character since she brings Ruby and the vet closer thanks to a porcupine encounter, but she was very dog like, which I appreciated. Dan is an aging former astronaut who starts Ruby’s opening by inviting her to accompany him to a dinner with the POTUS in Seattle. Throughout the story he shows depth of character and warmth that brought tears to my eyes, and Dan’s kindness extends far beyond Ruby. He is the type of character who makes you want to be a better person and be less afraid of the unknown. We all need a Dan in our lives.
I didn’t enjoy the constant references to flowers throughout the book although I expected them in a story about a florist. It simply became overwhelming because the entire novel is from Ruby’s first person viewpoint. Because she feels flowers saved her from depression after Daisy’s death Ruby thinks about flowers most of the time. I couldn’t begin to place most of the plants and blooms she mentions, and I felt like I was drowning in petals. At the same time I sensed the passion Ruby had for her work flowing off each digital page. When she cannot hear the flowers as she makes an arrangement I understood the significance of her mental turmoil.
There isn’t a ton of plot in The Art of Arranging Flowers, but it’s designed to be a character study of Ruby more than an action narrative. If you enjoy tales of daily living punctuated by a few important events the style shouldn’t bother it. I found it easy to read, and each piece flowed easily into the next.
Overall, I didn’t love The Art of Arranging Flowers, but it made me both weep and smile as I immersed myself in the lives of mostly ordinary people. It’s not a world changing book, but it warms you inside and touches emotions. Maybe you too can blossom from reading it.
4 Rejected Bridal Bouquets out of 5
The Art of Arranging Flowers will be available for purchase on June 3, 2014 wherever books are sold.