By Aurelia C. Scott
Otherwise Normal People is not a conventional collecting memoir, but the critical elements are similar: a novice learning about a new field; competition; obsession.
Aurelia Scott grows roses, but she’s an amateur compared to the people she interviews and writes about. Scott’s neighbor, Clarence, is a competent rose grower, and he starts the book working his garden in the spring, and finishes it putting away his roses for winter. In between are stories told by competitive rose growers, interwoven with rose history, rose-growing how-tos, and descriptions of prize-award-winning exhibitions.
Scott is an accomplished writer, and sprinkles the narrative with clever and appealing word choice, alliteration and references. Describing her victory over snails in her garden, she explains “…they slimed away.” Commenting on the extensive equipment required for rose growing, and why growers are predominantly male, Scott sums up, “…guys love gear.” On the breakup of a marriage over the wife’s objections to rose gardening, “It was about then that his then-wife became his ex-wife.” There is no reference to the Rose Bowl or the Rose Parade, even though much of the story is set in California, where roses bloom year-round. Nor is the Kentucky Derby mentioned by name, but in explaining the cooperation extended between growers, their helpfulness to each other, and their subdued reactions when winners are announced at competitive exhibitions, Scott cannot resist an oblique reference to America’s greatest horserace. “For many exhibitors, the run for the roses beats crossing the finish line.”
Otherwise Normal People: Inside the Thorny World of Competitive Rose Gardening by Aurelia C. Scott. Algonquin, 2007.