I'm not sure how I feel about this book. It was interesting and kept me reading. The time period and historical detail covered is fascinating. Some characters and what they endured was not easy to read, although, sadly, not unrealistic. The environments and how the characters endured or thrived was really well done. It is not a feel good book, but the pioneering times were not feel good times.
I've read several of Tracy Chevalier's books starting with the Girl with the Pearl Earring because I had an interest in Vermeer and often prefer my history to come in the package of well written historical fiction. I must say that I'm a bit surprised by many of the comments for this one, as I think it is one of her best. Maybe it's because I'm a transplant to Ohio and have also been overwhelmed by the sight of redwoods and giant sequoias. I loved the sections of letters and how they tied the story together. On the back cover it was praised by Joanne Harris-another of my favorite storytellers.
The Goodenough family faces many internal conflicts, as well as external conflicts as the Black Swamp of Ohio tries its hardest to work against them. The only thing the Goodenoughs seem to truly succeed at is planting, grafting, and harvesting 50 apple trees in their swampy territory. The apple trees bring more joy to the father, James, than his own family does. And the only reason why the mother, Sadie, puts up with the apples is that she can make applejack from them. The children have to deal with the repercussions of an irresponsible mom and a distant dad whose dislike for each other grows stronger. Soon, Robert Goodenough finds himself breaking away from his family, planting his feet in gold rush California. However, the conflicts he faced were never fully resolved, and his past still follows him, many years later.
At the Edge of the Orchard begins depressing and troublesome, but slowly changes in tone to more peaceful and resolved over the course of events. Very well-researched, from the different kinds of trees to the history of apples and people. Sadness and hard times reflected on the pioneer days of America, but joy is also prevalent, telling of the successes that made frontier life easier.
I decided I didn’t like this book, but I decided I was wrong. The story of a pioneer family in a swampy area of Ohio was so depressing, but I kept reading and I’m so glad I did. That depressing story was necessary to set the background for a brother and sister who flee the depressing life. Well-written this story will grab you and have you cheering, and crying as you discover what happens to Robert and Martha.
The Edge of the Orchard, by Tracy Chevalier, is the story of a family desperately coping with the hardships of pioneer life in mid 1800's Ohio. The author, who is best known for her novel Girl with the Pearl Earring, depicts the time period and setting with well researched, beautifully descriptive detail. She portrays her well developed characters and their dire situation without whitewash, leaving readers to mourn a broken family but later celebrate a new generation. The Edge of the Orchard is a serious and sombre look at pioneer life which would appeal to those who enjoy literary / historical fiction. It would especially appeal to those with an interest in botany. The author has gone to great lengths to research the trees and plants native to California.
An apple called the Golden Pippin is at the heart of Chevalier’s latest historic novel. We encounter Johnny Appleseed on his sojourns through early Ohio settlements and plant collector William Lobb in California among the redwood and sequoias. But, it’s the family story of James and Sadie Goodenough and their son Robert that are center stage.
Reading this book I thought of a trilogy of books I read in the 1990s about early Ohio by Conrad Richter, including one called ‘The Trees.’ Sure enough, he’s mentioned in her acknowledgements. Some of my own family were early Ohio immigrants. I still think of the density and darkness of the forest they needed to tame and how they kept their sanity. My family went further west just like Robert!
I've enjoyed Tracy Chevalier's other books, but I didn't really care for this one. I didn't like any of the characters, and the writing wasn't engaging. The story was quite heavy as well. There were some interesting details about apples and trees, though.
My first introduction to her writing. Loved the book. I thought moving between third person and first person narrative was quite creative, added a little flair, gives one a better inside picture of Sadie, adds to one's reaction to her character, developed her in a more personal way than boring third person. Also, I thought she was very creative in using the letters to cover a 16 year long period of time. Another person commented that the letters were "vague and badly written," which they were supposed to be. The ones writing the letters were practically illiterate, they weren't supposed to be Shakespeare. She did her research well as the book covers a fair amount of real life people and events.
I think I'll pick up a few more of her books.
This is an absorbing read with vivid characterisation and wonderfully textured writing. Recommended for lovers of historical fiction.
Such a literary treat. Interesting characters and diverse plot development. Lessons in geography and orchard maintenance, as a wonderful bonus, and a study of personalities and dysfunctional relationships, long before Hollywood or social media was to blame.
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