Jamie Langston Turner

A Garden to Keep

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A Garden to Keep Summary

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The fourth novel in the Derby Series by Jamie Langston Turner, A Garden to Keep, a book of Christian literary fiction, follows main character Elizabeth Landis, a well-educated woman in her late forties working as a substitute teacher in a small town in South Carolina. She has two sudden turns in her life, within hours of each other, which sends her reeling. She finds solace in her church community, and ultimately in her husband, as they work to repair their marriage.

The novel takes place in small-town South Carolina, where Elizabeth Landis lives with her husband. She is a substitute teacher in her mid-forties, and after many years of floundering, she makes the decision to become a Christian. She is assisted in her conversion by Margaret Tuttle, a character from a former Turner novel, who guides her toward the decision one Sunday.

That Sunday, February 18, Elizabeth is horrified a few hours later to discover her husband of many decades has been having an affair. Devastated by the discovery that her relationship isn’t what she thought it was, Elizabeth finds herself struggling to recover from the grief of that loss.

In order to come to terms with what has happened, Elizabeth traces back through the history of her marriage in her own memory, looking for the reason behind her husband’s choices. She finds herself using the symbolism of a garden to “prune” through the memories of her marriage, searching for some salvation from her pain.

An interesting character, Elizabeth Landis is a well-educated woman with a penchant for poetry and a passion for teaching; she has a near-encyclopedic knowledge of books, particularly literature from the 1990s. She quotes poems at the drop of a hat – a characteristic perhaps linked to Turner’s own passion for poetry. Landis’s literary influences serve her well in the months after learning of her husband’s affair. She finds some solace in literary figures that help her recognize her own part in her failing marriage.

Elizabeth soon discovers that many of the struggles in her marriage come back to her own failings. She uses Margaret’s support to guide her deeper into her faith, where she examines her defects of character, striving to become better. In her life as a born-again Christian, she relieves herself of some of the pain of the past, finding middle ground in her marriage.

Ultimately, Elizabeth’s journey through Christianity helps her in her marriage. She and her husband steadily work toward recovery after his decision to cheat, and she is able to forgive both him and herself for his choices and their failing marriage. At the end of the novel, she prunes the garden of her marriage, finding solace in herself, her history, and her faith.

Jamie Langston Turner is the author of a number of novels in the Christian literary genre. Her titles include Suncatcher, Sometimes a Light Surprises, To See the Moon Again, Some Wildflower in My Heart, No Dark Valley, and A Garden to Keep, among others. Four of Turner’s novels were nominated for Christy Awards, two of them winning the awards: A Garden to Keep in 2002 and Winter Birds in 2006. In 2016, Turner retired from Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina where she had taught poetry and literature. She has lived in South Carolina, where her books take place, for nearly 50 years.