The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway is a captivating piece of realistic contemporary fiction. Galilee Garner (Gal) is a thirty-six-year old biology teacher at a small Catholic school. Her life is defined by two things: chronic renal disease and a passion for roses.
Gal lost her kidneys to relux when she was twelve, and two kidney transplants have failed. She has been on dialysis for eight years. Aside from feeling rotten most of the time, and spending half of her life shuttling to the dialysis center to be hooked up to a machine, she knows her days are numbered unless she can get another transplant.
The one bright spot in Gal’s life is a fascination with breeding roses. She wants to create a new rose that combines beauty, hardiness, and fragrance–one that will win competitions and earn her respect from breeders with greater resources than her small greenhouse and lawn patch. She wants to create a commercially viable rose. She’s an amateur up against the professionals. But it is the one thing that gives her hope and reason to live.
And then, enter Riley. Gal’s sister has a job opportunity that takes her overseas. Presumably to get her life back on track, she dumps her daughter on Gal. The last thing Gal needs is a messed-up teenager to deal with, to care for, to care about.
I had a hard time putting this book down. The details were remarkable and the character development was spot-on. I read the book because I have an interest in kidney disease and this showed the human toll. Gal was "prickly" – the adjective used by a friend in the book. She refused to believe she was ever wrong. She was used to being deferred to. She was manipulative. Her closest friend finally called her on her self-centeredness and Gal was, at first, resistant to admitting it. She’s sick! She could, in fact, be dying. She is entitled to think of herself. But over the course of the book, a change comes over Gal. She opens her eyes to where she has been wrong and this softens her edges to possibilities to other things in life. It’s not a 180 degree change. The book is realistic. But it’s a beautiful story about personal growth under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
The storyline also wraps itself around Gal’s attention to her roses. The metaphor is obviously there, but it works as plot, too, and is interesting in its own right. I never thought I’d find details about flower breeding and flower show/competitions so interesting.
Margaret Dilloway is the author of How to Be an American Housewife, a book I haven’t read but may have to!