A remarkable book, by a truly remarkable woman. AJ Wootton’s incredibly touching memoir Garden with Guns is a book full of love, loss and laughter. Drawing on her very own personal experiences, the reader is invited into the past and present life of AJ Wootton. This book explores the growth of the author, rewinding the clock right back to her rocky childhood to the even rockier troubles of her current relationship and the traumatic loss of her father. Themes of death, child abuse, domestic abuse, poverty and marital affairs are all touched upon, teaching us that no matter how successful you are, life is not obligated to give us a happily ever after.
First and foremost, I must say a tremendous thank you to AJ Wootton for sharing her story. And she has my total sympathy and empathy. Usually, I have a bad relationship when it comes to reading memoirs. I have read some memoirs in the past either littered with dull anecdotes or the typical navel-gazing narrative. But not this time. Straightway, I knew I would easily relate to this book. I am no stranger to life’s tragedies myself. Just like the author, I have watched the disintegration of my parents’ marriage. At the tender age of 10, I have had to adjust to my father’s extramarital affairs. And sadly, I have lost both my mother and just recently this year, my brother, to suicide. Reading the majority of this book was like looking into my own soul. For example, whilst I read the chapter about the AJ Wootton searching for answers about her father’s suicide, I completely felt her waves of confusion and disbelief. So yes, at times, it was a difficult read for me but on the whole, the author’s consistent optimism provided me with so much joy and happiness. It’s an extremely well-written book, filled with beautiful scenery descriptions and emotional, sweeping passages. It flows ever so seamlessly, drawing parallels between the past and present day. Even though this is a true story memoir, it as the poetic flourish of a fictional novel. I am completely stunned this a debut! Its crystal clear AJ Wootton has been voracious reader all of her life because she has soaked up so many writing skills – it’s unbelievable. For example, her engaging vocabulary, the way she is able to create vivid images and in the Ohio/Cody childhood chapters, her ability to write from the perspective of a child, without losing the flow of the narrative; now that is a talent! I strongly believe chapter lengths are super important because chapters lay the pace of the story. Plus, if chapters are too lengthy, then readers are prone too lose interest or they will suffer from content overload – not good! The chapters are the perfect size in this book; nice and easily digestible. Additionally, what I also admire about this book is the side by side comparisons between the author’s relationship and her mother’s relationships. It is clear that AJ Wootton was determined not to let history repeat itself in her own family and as her present-day account slowly unravels, the similarities are there. For example, it took years for her mother to finally nip her relationship with Jim in the bud. Then her mother put up with so much physical and mental abuse from Glen. And she gave up her domestic life in Ohio, to move to the town of Cody, just so Glen could find employment. The author’s life, even though she escaped and pursued a highly successful career, parallels her mother’s life. This just proves the past can follow you around like a shadow, no matter how far you separate yourself from your childhood traumas.
The only dislikes I have towards this book are the uncomfortably disturbing chapters about the child abused AJ Wootoon suffered at the hands of Glen. I found them terribly hard to read and process. And it’s not just the abuse. It’s heartbreaking feelings of hopelessness she experienced and frustrating length time it took for the author to finally speak out, only to be brushed off by her own mother. I pray AJ Wootton has found her much deserved peace and once again, I thank her for this brave-retelling. Other than this small dislike, it is clearly obvious this book has been edited by a professional. I couldn’t find one single typo or grammatical error. If I had to be extremely picky, there was a repeated metaphor used. Once on page 263 ‘ Happiness trickled over us like a gentle rain’. And again on page 278 ‘ Hope trickled over me like a gentle spring rain’. But I can deny the fact it’s a beautiful metaphor; it’s so nice, it’s repeated twice!
In terms of identifying the demographic audience, I feel Gardening with Guns appeals to all races, ages, social classes and ethnic group. Each and every single one us can relate to everyday traumas, so I feel this book will be understood and accepted by the majority. Not only is this book a memoir, but I also think it doubles up as self-help guide too. I would highly recommend this book for anybody who is dealing with the loss of a loved one or dealing with any demons from the past, whether that be child abuse or mental abuse. AJ Wootton’s life lessons teach readers how to overcome life struggles to lead a satisfying life.
In conclusion, I award Gardening with Guns a glittering 4 out of 4 stars. As i stated in the beginning, I was little unsure how I would receive this memoir at first because some memoirs are full of self-pity and are too self- absorbed. But you have nothing to fear with this powerful read.