By Ekta R. Garg
Rated: Bypass it
June 4, 2014
A woman buries her feelings about her sister’s death and throws herself in her work as the main florist in a small town. When a new man joins the community, she wonders about him at the same time she chastises herself for doing so. Instead, she tries to focus her attention on the people in the town and how she can help them with her arrangements. Author Lynne Branard tries to elevate this weak storyline without success in her novel, The Art of Arranging Flowers.
Ruby Jewell, owner of the Flower Shoppe, has arranged flowers for the residents of Creekside, Washington, for the last 20 years. She tries to put all of her energy in helping the residents who have also become her friends, but she still can’t ignore how much she misses Daisy, her sister, who died. The only thing that kept Ruby from crawling in the grave after Daisy was the flowers. Ruby learned about flowers, about their properties and how they affect people, and the flowers brought her back from the brink of oblivion.
She and her dog, Clementine, greet friends every day, and Ruby puts together bouquets to help, to heal, to project positive energy and encourage positive thoughts. She banters easily with Nora, her assistant, and Jimmy, her delivery person, both recovering alcoholics who have decided to rebuild their lives. For the most part, Ruby feels satisfied with her life.
Things change, however, when a new veterinarian moves to town to take over the practice of the previous vet. Ruby notices the man, and this bothers her. She doesn’t have time in her life for a man, and she certainly doesn’t want the complications. She’s arranged flowers long enough to know just how a romantic relationship can go wrong.
Fortunately her life offers her several diversions. A young boy shows up on her doorstep one day asking for a job, and the resident celebrity (a former astronaut) starts to show some interest in her by asking her to events and initiating interesting conversations with her. With the latest love stories blooming right in front of her, Ruby knows she should keep her attention on her work. So why can’t she get the vet out of her mind?
Author Lynne Branard attempts to romance her readers with the beauty of flowers; instead, readers will spend much of their time skimming paragraphs and pages while they look for the meat of the story. Unfortunately most of the action happens behind the scenes. Readers will only find out about major events after they’ve happened, either through Ruby’s first-person narrative or through dialogue between characters.
This storytelling choice will frustrate readers, especially because Branard uses her space to describe flowers instead. Colors, shapes, their helpful properties—readers will find out more than they could ever imagine or want to know about flowers. Had Branard carefully woven the flower descriptions with her story, she would have created a powerful novel. The actual result, however, comes across as tedious. Branard tries to ground the novel with background details of Ruby’s sister’s life and death, but these hints don’t ever develop into anything substantial.
Most annoying of all comes in the fact that Branard develops the main love story—between Ruby and the vet—in the background. The man barely makes an appearance. In fact, Ruby spends more center stage time with her astronaut friend, and readers shouldn’t feel guilty if they start wondering whether the romance will happen between them.
Branard goes for a story as delicate as the flowers she describes but falls far short of the lyrical beauty of something like The Language of Flowers or even The Mistress of Spices. Readers should choose one of those other books instead and give The Art of Arranging Flowers a pass.