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.
The Garden Lady
January 1, 2013
Courtesy of Susan Dworkin
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- On their terrifying journey to New York, what did Maxie and Ceecee learn about each other and about themselves?
- Beloved animals: Nowhere, Hannibal, Pupu, Crispy, the big horse Chico – what role do they play in the story of The Garden Lady?
- 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…”
- 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?
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