The Gar­den Lady

January 1, 2013

The Gar­den Lady is the sto­ry of Max­ine Dash, a Jew­ish woman from New Jer­sey on the cusp of her 50’s. A wid­ow, she decides to mar­ry a rich man who will guar­an­tee her an afflu­ent and secure future. All he asks in return is her love her unswerv­ing loy­al­ty, and her agree­ment to know noth­ing about his busi­ness. After he dies she ulti­mate­ly learns the truth about her life and his busi­ness. Mov­ing past denial, she must grap­ple with her own guilt and com­plic­i­ty. Maxie’s moral dilem­ma very much in the Jew­ish eth­i­cal tra­di­tion is the heart of the book.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Susan Dworkin

  1. How Jew­ish can a sec­u­lar Jew be? Max­ie Dash was raised by her Aunt Glad­dy in the 1940s. At first glance, Glad­dy seems to be a total­ly sec­u­lar Jew, a kib­butznik-in-train­ing. But look again. How does Gladdy’s agrar­i­an social­ist Zion­ism impact Maxie’s social con­science, her ideals and her eth­i­cal deci­sions? Does it give her a Bib­li­cal ref­er­ence point? A Jew­ish moral compass?

  2. The pathol­o­gy of inse­cu­ri­ty: Max­ie is a suc­cess­ful woman. She has her own mon­ey, her own slice of fame as a pro­fes­sion­al beau­ty. Why would she put up with a tem­pera­men­tal, secre­tive hus­band like Albert?

  3. Will­ful igno­rance: Max­ie agrees to know noth­ing about Albert’s busi­ness. She clos­es her eyes and ears. Her din­ner guests remain strangers to her. Is there a point when her will­ful igno­rance becomes com­plic­i­ty? Should it be added to the al chet list on Yom Kippur?

  4. Mixed emo­tions: Does Max­ine real­ly love Albert? Or does she wish him dead? Or both? Do you like Max­ie? Or do you find her rep­re­hen­si­ble? Or both?

  5. Can you think of oth­er women – maybe you know them per­son­al­ly, maybe they’re famous peo­ple in pub­lic life — who have made a deal like Maxie’s deal with Albert?

  6. The mys­ter­ies of friend­ship: Sam Euphemia is a tough New Jer­sey kid now grown into a pow­er­ful young exec­u­tive at a big air couri­er com­pa­ny. How could he pos­si­bly learn to sym­pa­thize with an aging fash­ion icon like Max­ie? Do they have some­thing in common?

  7. What do Maxie’s dear­est friend, the design­er Ceecee Rodriguez, and Sam’s lover, the busi­ness­woman Shas­ta Naka­mu­ra, both have that both Max­ie and Sam des­per­ate­ly want?

  8. On their ter­ri­fy­ing jour­ney to New York, what did Max­ie and Ceecee learn about each oth­er and about themselves?

  9. Beloved ani­mals: Nowhere, Han­ni­bal, Pupu, Crispy, the big horse Chico – what role do they play in the sto­ry of The Gar­den Lady?

  10. Wise advi­sors: How do the advi­sors” in this book com­pli­cate the deci­sions of the char­ac­ters? For exam­ple, what is Maxie’s lust­ful dra­ma teacher refer­ring to when he says: Per­haps some­day you will find… some fan­tas­tic emotion…so valuable…so pre­cious that it can­not be bought…”

  11. What is the sig­nif­i­cance of Garbage Moun­tain in this sto­ry? Is it just New Jer­sey scenery? Is it a grave to be dec­o­rat­ed with flow­ers? Is there some trea­sure buried in it? It is almost impos­si­ble for any­thing at all to grow on Garbage Moun­tain. How­ev­er, is it pos­si­ble for redemp­tion to grow there for Max­ie Dash?