Book review: At the Edge of the Orchard

Tracy Chevalier is a ‘must buy’ author for me Tracy Chevalierand At the Edge of the Orchard does not disappoint. It is a story about roots – of family and trees – about the pioneers who populated built America’s mid-west and west coast, battling swamp and mountains. Most importantly it is about apples. The scent of the fruit imbues every page. But this is not a romantic story. The Goodenough family live an at-times brutal life as they try to establish an apple orchard in Ohio’s Black Swamp in 1838. Love them or hate them, the apples affect the direction of their lives.

The story started slowly for me as we hear the family’s daily life told by mother Sadie and father James. The two are so antagonistic that you wonder how they ever married. They battle the elements, each other and Sadie’s need for applejack, to put food in the mouths of their surviving children. In winter they wade through mud, in summer they battle swamp fever. Sadie is an almost completely unsympathetic character, hiding in a bottle while her husband hides with his apples. The children, if they survive, are adults before their time.

The story really took off for me when we hear what happens to Robert, the youngest son, who one day simply walks away from the farm. Fifteen years later he is an itinerant worker on boats and even in the Gold Rush, before a chance meeting in California with a plant collector [the real William Lobb] changes his life. He writes home to the family in the Black Swamp, but hears nothing. Is his family dead? Why did he really leave? Can Robert leave behind the apple legacy and become his own man? Will he ever shake off memories of his difficult upbringing and forge close relationships himself? Having seen the Californian sequoias which Robert discovers, I loved the second half of this book.

Read my review of Tracy Chevalier’s previous novel, The Last Runaway.

If you like ‘At the Edge of the Orchard’, try these novels about American history:-
‘The Knife with the Ivory Handle’ by Cynthia Bruchman
‘If I Knew you were going to be this Beautiful, I never would have let you go’ by Judy Chicurel
‘Time will Darken It’ by William Maxwell

‘At the Edge of the Orchard’ by Tracy Chevalier [UK: The Borough Press] Buy at Amazon

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Apples & families: AT THE EDGE OF THE ORCHARD by @Tracy_Chevalier #bookreview via @SandraDanby

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