Tuesday, March 1, 2016

At the Edge of the Orchard

Title:  At the Edge of the Orchard
Author:  Tracy Chevalier
Publication Information:  Viking. 2016. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0525953000 / 978-0525953005

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "They were fighting over apples again."

Favorite Quote:  "... sometimes that's what you have to do - go back to go forward."

A story of a marriage trying to survive in difficult living conditions, a story of a young man escaping his past, a history of a young United States, and the beauty of trees are the four main elements of this book.

First is the story of James and Sadie Goodenough in northwest Ohio in the 1830s. Coming from Connecticut, they find themselves in a swamp in Ohio, settled where their wagon broke down. They are two incompatible people struggling in an inhospitable environment. The swamp closes in on life with its oppressive mud, its inability to be farmed, and the diseases it brings. James is a dreamer but also abusive. Sadie is an alcoholic, an abuser, and an unhappy person. Neither the environment nor the characters are likable. Yet, the characters, the story, and the environment show depth and leave a lot to be explored.

Second is the story of Robert, one of the Goodenough children. As a child, he is depicted as different, as a sensitive soul. As an adult, his story is much flatter and much more ordinary. He is a man running from a troubled childhood. He is a wanderer until something and someone catches his passion and interest. Eventually, his past comes to catch up with him. The characters in this part of the story are much more likable but lack the shadows and depth of James and Sadie.

The third element of this book is the history. James and Sadie's story brings to life the history of progression west, settlement, farming, revival meetings, survival, and John Chapman better known as Johnny Appleseed. I know the history of Johnny Appleseed; it is interesting to see him as a man with a pretty major role in Sadie's story. Robert's story is set in the history of the Gold Rush and of California.  The history in this book forms the background of the book; it is the setting for the story, but it is not the story. This story is all about these characters and their individual lives and actions.

Finally, this book is all about the trees - the apple trees of James' childhood, the seedlings that Johnny Appleseed brings, the apple trees that become a bone of contention between James and Sadie, and the redwoods and sequoias that become Robert's life work. The nature of these trees and the appreciation for their beauty and their fruit adds a beautiful environmental element to this book.

The story line of the book starts with James and Sadie. About a quarter of the way, it suddenly switches to letters from Robert showing his journey from the family farm in Ohio to California. The story winds its way back to the reason Robert leaves the farm, but not until much later in the book. The conclusion to James and Sadie's story comes abruptly but not until about two-thirds of the way through the book. It brings with it a greater understanding of Robert's actions, but it comes a little to late to elicit that emotion for Robert. Robert's story is the focus of the book, but James and Sadie's story is the more interesting one.  That's the one I wish I read more about.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment