Sunday, April 10, 2016
At The Edge Of The Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Published by Penguin Publishing Group March 2016
Source: the publisher through Netgalley
1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.
1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.
I've had mixed feelings about the other Tracy Chevalier book I've read, so you'd think I'd have stopped reading them by now. I often come away feeling like I may have learned far more about a subject than I really needed to know. But then, I have learned a lot about a subject I didn't know much about that I was clearly interested in or I wouldn't have read the book so that can't be bad, right? Plus, there's bound to be interesting historical details and even more interesting characters. So when I had a chance to read her latest, I didn't hesitate.
And could I now graft two trees into one? Possibly. There's no lack of detail about trees in this book, including all of ways pioneering folk would have used the apple harvest from their trees for. I may have skimmed over some of that.
I really loved the unusual structure of this book. The first part of the book is alternating parts with James' point of view told from the third-person and Sadie's told from a first-person point of view. There are two sections that are collections of letters. There is a section that is a flashback and then we are back to Robert's present told from the third-person point of view. It worked well to reveal the details of the story from a number of viewpoints and to move the story along quickly in time.
Despite all of the talk of trees (and did you know that redwoods and sequoias are not the same tree?), the focus of At The Edge of The Orchard is its characters - Sadie and Molly both with their destructive desperation, James with his single-minded passion, Martha with her quiet resignation, and Robert whose pain is palpable.
If your a fan of Chevalier's work, you'll enjoy At The Edge of The Orchard and I definitely think book clubs would find a lot to discuss here.