Book Club Reads: The Florist’s Daughter

I haven’t dropped out of book club. But it has been a while since I’ve posted about our goings-on…part of it is sorting out some of my thoughts on some of the books, and the other was the new Kindle I received that got me all sucked in to the local library system’s e-book process.

Still, for the month of March one of the members grabbed a “Book Club Kit” from the library: 10 copies of the same book and a discussion guide! Pretty handy to get everyone on the same page right away. The book she chose was “The Florist’s Daughter” by Patricia Hampl.

The timing of reading this book was unexpectedly poignant for me; after losing my maternal grandfather in early February, we mourned the loss of my maternal grandmother about five weeks later. Some members of the family had long speculated that one could not live very long without the other, and so it was.

Still, opening the pages on a daughter holding her dying mother’s hand immediately struck a nerve. It was almost too close to what I understood others were going through as well as my own reflections on loss and life to really appreciate the book just off-the-shelf.

Even so, I have to give the author credit: classified as a memoir, we float back and forth through memories, with some rough chronological order but nothing straight and defined as one decade versus another. Her storytelling style reminds me of being a child and receiving a Polaroid Instamatic print fresh out of the camera that You’d watch develop right before your eyes. And how your eyes raced from corner to corner, trying to predict which parts of the picture would take shape first, and excited to see what the camera captured for the print – and what it missed.

Memories can be very much like those instant pictures. What you recall may not be the same as what another person recalls, but the emotions are just as vivid. And as memories are often internal dialogues, it’s almost fitting that conversations are sparse snippets of longer conversations, with less important exchanges blurred to hone in on the words said that stuck in memory.

There’s a weariness in the tone of the story, though, that I think helps amplify some of the youthful optimism communicated in some scenes, such as when the writer waits on what she thinks is her first big customer at the flower shop, or her struggles in trying to please two parents who were very different and held her to high expectations. The struggles she shares are nothing new: we all want to be good children, to earn our parents’ love and to find some satisfaction in doing the right thing. Yet we want to only be ourselves and praised for doing nothing more than that. The distance of time and maturity bring a sharper perspective on what a parent’s sacrifice entails, and brings an understanding to those high expectations – but that awareness does not lighten the load for the storyteller.

The book’s close, which concludes shortly after her mother passes, leaves one both hopeful and exhausted. Which seems right for a memoir; your mind should feel hollowed-out, shoulders sore from the story you just carried around. The cover closes, and a sense of “what now?” immediately enters your mind. And that right there may be the hallmark of a well-written memoir.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Ellen says:

    My book club read this a few years ago. Many of us are from out of town and it was a real eye opener to read about growing up in Saint Paul!

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