At age seventy-two, Emma Hanley plans to escape small-town Palmetto, South Carolina, and travel the globe. But when her fickle husband dies in undignified circumstances, Emma finds herself juggling the needs of her adult children. Her once free-spirited daughter Dora turns to compulsive shopping and a controlling husband to forget her wayward past. Her son Bobby still lives with her, afflicted with an illness that robbed him of his childhood promise.When Dora’s old flame Jake Cary returns to Palmetto with a broken heart and a gift for gardening, the town becomes filled with mysterious, potent botanicals and memories long forgotten. Soon enough, Jake and his ragtag group of helpers begin to unearth the secrets that have divided the Hanleys for decades.
Written with the warmth of Lee Smith and the magical touch of Alice Hoffman, Secret Keepers is a beguiling second novel by the acclaimed author of The Garden Angel.
The Story Behind The Book
A note from Mindy:
In the garden this morning I found larkspur and zinnias sprouting in the tomato bed. Last summer’s Love-Lies-Bleeding went rogue, too, self-seeding among the squash and peppers. I find such strange bedfellows enchanting. I’m working with nature here, so I’m open to surprises. I like to see what happens.
That’s pretty much how I approach writing novels. I like to see what happens. What are these characters up to now? I love it when they surprise me.
I started SECRET KEEPERS with an image of Emma Hanley, gazing at a family portrait, stuck in her hometown. Like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, she yearns to flee. Just when it looks like she might get her wish, her husband heads off to his morning coffee klatch with a gaggle of adoring widow women, and . . . well, Emma’s dream of travel is stymied. Again. And then she has her hands full juggling the demands of her adult children. Things get really prickly when a motley group of gardeners, the Blooming Idiots, unearth some strange botanicals and the Hanley family’s secrets. Nature, it turns out, is a major character in SECRET KEEPERS. In the course of the novel — through regret, broken hearts, and grief — humor winds like a flowering vine. Publisher’s Weekly says the Hanley clan, “is a genuinely quirky lot with its own unlikely ideas of happiness.” Strange bedfellows, indeed.
But her father was in the service, so she did get to see the world in her formative years. She moved in the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth grades-such a childhood encourages one to observe peer groups from a remove, cultivating the narrator within. As an Army Brat she lived in Germany, Virginia, and Washington D.C. before returning to South Carolina as a teen.
As a reporter she covered tobacco auctions, town council meetings, “grip and grin” check donations; she wrote obituaries, interviewed quasi-celebrities (Pat Boone, remember him?) and failed university presidents accused of embezzling (try to forget that one), and, eventually, wrote features on people who did interesting things (such as growing gourds that resemble world leaders.)
Her yard is a certified wildlife habitat. She composts and grows vegetables in her front yard. In the city limits. She is considering adding a few chickens.
Genre: Southern Fiction
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (April 28, 2009)
Secret Keepers is available through Amazon.com, B&N.com, and any independent or chain bookstore.