Florence Osmund writes layered novels centered on characters trying to find home in a literal and figurative sense. The novels explore how integral family is to each character and how family can consist of people not related by blood. Her books are rich in character development as we take an emotional journey with each protagonist, and the well-drawn supporting characters play pivotal roles in the chief characters’ lives.
Osmund’s characters are realistic as they work through their predicaments while carrying on the ordinary tasks of daily life. She achieves this through realistic dialog. It’s like listening to a conversation between people familiar to us. Like us, her characters’ lives, goals and direction are never linear. They must navigate the jagged crossings that life challenges us with.
I read Living with Markus, Regarding Anna, and Red Clover, which I will explore in-depth for this author study. Each novel is separate and distinct from one another, but they also incorporate similar themes, styles and tones.
In Red Clover, protagonist Lee feels like an outsider in his own home. For as long as he can remember, he never belonged anywhere, especially under the same roof as his parents and two brothers. He meanders through life trying to fit in, trying to find his place, trying to find home. As he enters the adult world, his social awkwardness overwhelms him. “He tried to imagine himself with a girl like her, but it was hard to form an image in his head when he had so little to go by. He wondered how guys even knew if a girl would want to go on a date with him. Where do you learn this stuff? He figured it would have been a whole lot easier to have started learning about girls when he was twelve and was expected to be naïve and awkward.”
In Regarding Anna, main character Grace finds evidence that makes her question her very identity. As the book opens, we learn that after her parents’ death, she was forced from her home at age 18. Determined to figure everything out, she even works as a private detective so that she can unravel her own mystery of her being. She finds herself in a kind of limbo until she discovers answers. “I’d never wanted to be a private investigator. The only reason I’d gone down that road was to get answers so as to be able to go on to do something else.”
In Living with Markus, unlike Grace and Lee, Markus thinks he is settled into a life that does not include his difficult, dysfunctional sister and father. He owns a landscaping business and resides in one of Chicago’s three-flats, a small apartment building where he occupies the garden flat, and two tenants live in the other units. His father’s absence left Markus in charge of the home at the tender age of eighteen. Marcus struggled to get where he is in life and is reluctant to allow his dysfunctional, troubled family to trespass on the world he carved out for himself.
When his deadbeat dad shows up needing a place to stay, Markus is conflicted. He tells him: “Let me remind you when you were carted off to prison, you were three months behind in mortgage payments, and I was all of eighteen years old mowing yards ten and twelve hours a day trying to make ends meet, working weekends at Home Depot, and begging the bank to give you more time.”
Still, despite Markus’ belief that they share no bond beyond blood ties, he feels responsible to a certain extent. Obligation to family works on his ethical conscience. To make matters worse, he finds himself in charge of the care of his two nephews, ages ten and eleven, because his addicted, mentally unstable sister is unable to. “He had the boys under his care for four days. On his way to work and feeling completely inadequate as their caregiver, Marc gave thought to talking to someone about their welfare in general—someone who knew more about children’s needs than he did.”
Landscaping, plants, and gardening all play a role in these Florence Osmund novels. In Red Clover, Lee obtains a Master’s degree in horticulture, with a particular interest in plants as medical research. As stated above, in Living with Markus, Markus owns a landscaping company. While plants don’t figure into Grace’s livelihood in Regarding Anna, a winterberry bush plays a key part in creating trust with an essential person in solving her mystery. As turmoil and change disrupt and even uproot the characters’ lives, the land, the tress, the plants remain constant. The world moves on whether people move with it or not.
Osmund’s novels take the reader along with the main character into their personal life and work life. We get to know their day-to-day routine. We share huge, life-changing events with them, and we share smaller, ordinary pieces of their life. We learn what Markus buys at the grocery store and what his favorite drinks are. We enjoy Lee’s first pizza right along with him, and we learn how he manages his first ever visit to a hardware store. We go with Grace on minor private investigator jobs that do not pertain to her central mystery, but they provide a dose of insight and humor into her character.
While Marcus is forced to reconcile himself to either helping his family or cutting them out of his life, Grace and Lee discover “family” through the people that have embraced them as part of their lives. Because of his cold, isolated upbringing, Lee barely knows how to talk to people casually, especially girls. When he ventures into a new town and, hopefully, a new life, the circumstances force him to interact more with strangers. He confides his inner turmoil to another character: “I grew up with family members very different from me—every one of them. They all thought I was a kook. They still do. And me? Well, I spent my childhood in more psychologists’ offices than I care to remember. I was told that I wouldn’t amount to anything because I wasn’t like them.”
Aside from a friend’s parents, Grace is alone in the world but is determined to be happy. As she encounters people that could help solve her personal mystery, she becomes attached to some of them. “Minnie acted like an old mother hen when it came to my well-being. And to be honest, I kind of liked it. Except for the fostering I received from Mrs. Miller, I hadn’t been mothered since my own mother had died.”
Osmund’s books are colored with descriptive detail of the house, buildings, and streets. Regarding Anna and Living with Marcus take place in Chicago. When Grace from Regarding Anna visits the Chicago library, she is enamored. “I loved Chicago’s main library with its domed Tiffany glass ceiling in the center, the grand staircase leading to the second floor, and all the wonderful quotes from historical authors high up on the walls, each one crafted from a different material.” In Red Clover, we get right inside of Lee’s head as he plans the design of houses and buildings with his architects and building professionals.
It’s a pleasure reading the three Florence Osmund novels, and I intend to read more. They are a realistic life journey with the characters, and I think readers will recognize themselves or people they know in her work. She writes realistic, meaningful novels injected with insight, humor, and sharp attention to detail.