Wednesday, September 2, 2009

From the Cry Baby Room: Hot House Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire*

(Do we take care of plants or do they take care of us?)

The other day I moved my plants to the window and booked a flight to Isla de Mujeres. After a few evenings with Hothouse Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin, it was the only thing to do.

Lila Nova is a thirty-something ad woman in NYC disillusioned with the way her life’s unfolded: divorced, demoralized, and lonely. She moves into a nondescript apartment near Union Square’s greenmarket where she buys a bird of paradise. It’s an unusual choice for the location, but doing so brings color and drama to her lackluster life.

First, she’s introduced to David Exley, an attractive but rustic plant dealer at the greenmarket who tells her about the nine plants of desire. Then she stumbles on a Laundromat that doubles as a greenhouse where she meets its proprietor Armand. He offers her a cutting of a fire fern, one of the nine plants of desire. Lila takes advantage of Armand’s generosity and the result is devastating. In an attempt to make amends with him and with herself, she departs for the jungles of Mexico.

This is not Mexico for tourists. Instead, it’s a place steeped in magic and ritual, untamed and uncertain. As Lila goes deeper into the jungle she gets closer understanding her life. What is that she wants? What is it that we all want? More to the point, perhaps we all have a little Lila in us, that yearning to attain all that the nine plants represent (love, immortality, fortune, fertility, sexuality, life force, magic, freedom, adventure).

This is a captivating debut from Berwin, and one I debated whether to rush through or savor. (However, a quick search divulges more of Berwin's writing not to be missed.) If Hothouse Flower does anything, it asks us to slow down and consider that which we desire. And for those of us with a thumb more brown than green, you’ll think of your plants as beings, not just things.

*The guest room, where all the books in our house live, was affectionately dubbed the "cry baby" room when I moved in with Chris. The way I remember it we had our first argument and I went to the guest room (where my old bed resides) to sulk. It didn't last long. We made up, and since then, we reference going to the cry baby room when either of us need a little breather, or in my case, a good book to read.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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