14 Sep 2017

AT THE EDGE OF THE ORCHARD.

AT THE EDGE OF THE ORCHARD by TRACY CHEVALIER.

BACK COVER BLURB: In the inhospitable Black Swamp of Ohio, the Goodenough family are barely scratching out a living. Life there is harsh, tempered only by the apples they grow for eating and for the cider that dulls their pain. Hot-headed Sadie and buttoned-up James are a poor match, and Robert and his sister Martha can only watch helplessly as their parents tear each other apart.

One particularly vicious fight sends Robert out alone across America, far from his sister, to seek his fortune among the mighty redwoods and sequoias of Gold Rush California. But even across a continent, he can feel the pull of family loyalties.

FIRST SENTENCE {BLACK SWAMP, OHIO: SPRING 1838}: They were fighting over apples again.

MEMORABLE RANDOM MOMENT* {PAGE 64}: Then the preacher started to shake a little bit - his hands, then his arms, then his chest. Then he was repeatin himself over and over and shakin a little more and a little more until he was head to toe shakin, and then we were all of us answerin, Yes, I feel the lord, over and over like a wave.

SOURCE: Thanks to Pat for the loan of this book.

READ FOR: Not applicable.

MY THOUGHTS: Having recently read two books (one of which dwelt heavily on funghi, the other, I forget) that featured non-characters in such depth I was concerned that this book, like the cider so readily enjoyed by Sadie and the giant sequoia groves so beloved of son, Robert, would prove too much However .... 

A book of two parts. The first of which (set in 1838) sees James and Sadie Goodenough set up home in the stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio, the second of which (set in 1853), haunted by his homelife, we find youngest son, Robert, travelling through California where he, like his father, finds solace in seeds.

Whilst yes I did come away with more (much more) knowledge about apples (and to a lesser degree, redwoods and the giant sequoia) than I had started with and, yes, I did at times worry that the author may have become bogged down in her research about apples, in the end the overall plot and, in particular, the strong characterisation prevailed even if ...

  • In two parts, the timeline did jump around somewhat. Something that can prove both confusing and detrimental to the flow of the narrative but thankfully in this instance didn't prove too much of a hurdle. 
  • Sadie's voice took a little getting used to, her tendency to not finish words ('repeatin', 'shakin', etc) a tad tiresome to begin with.
  • Though undoubtedly indicative of the times, of living in such close proximity in such poverty, I found the familial violence, to be found mostly in the former parts of the novel, not just emotive reading but extremely painful to the point where I was tempted to skip passages.
  • Part of the narrative was written in letter format ... not something that bothers every reader, its just not to my liking.
But do you know what made At The Edge Of The Orchard for me?

No? Well, let me tell you.

I loved that, so cleverly written, the trees, indeed the very landscape itself, seemed to me to be metaphors reflecting the lives of the characters. The inhospitable Black Swamp, the grafting of the trees, the saplings that failed to survive surely indicative of the environment in which the family found themselves, of the difficult coming together of James and Sadie, of the children's lives lost.

Without giving too much away, ending with Robert travelling around the globe, transporting the seeds of a renowned naturalist, I'm very much hoping there is going to be a part two.

* Having tired of the post-it-notes marking my Memorable Moment (MM), I decided to go hi-tech (at least hi-tech for me) and make a note of my MM using the Notebook on my mobile phone. Alas too clever, I somehow or other managed to delete it hence, for the moment, my Random Moment. TT

9 comments:

Kelly said...

I'm just not sure about this one. I've enjoyed novels by this author in the past, but I'm not so sure about the timeframe and subject matter here. Your positives have me considering it a little more...

As for those Memorable Moments, I keep a small notebook with whatever I'm reading at the time. That's where I note the first lines and any parts I think might be worthy of using in my review. For "real" books, I just note page numbers, but with my Kindle, I write down the portions so I don't have to go back and find them.

Suko said...

Tracy,
Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts. It sounds like you ended up enjoying this book a great deal.

Mary (Bookfan) said...

I kind of like the idea of landscape metaphors. Haven't read this author (I don't think) but I might give a try.

nightwingsraven said...

Tracy,

Thank you for your excellent and
truly heartfelt review. Keeping
in mind your positives and negatives.
I will give this book a chance and
add it to my list.
Raven

Melliane said...

Despite some points, it sounds well done. It looks different

Brian Joseph said...

This sounds interesting and different.


I am also bothered by passages describing graphic violence. I also have a lot of trouble with dialogue written in accents.

The stuff about seeds sounds strangely interesting.

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

This is something I may enjoy. I like how he pushes the metaphors with the trees. That actually intrigues me most of all. Brilly review.

Literary Feline said...

I love that it was the metaphor of the trees/landscape to the character's lives that made this book for you. I find that sometimes in books I read too. There's a sort of symmetry that I just can't resist. I have only read one Tracy Chevalier book and enjoyed it. I like her writing. Even with that one, it wasn't so much the characters and story itself that had me really appreciating the book in the end, but the way the author put it all together over the course of the novel.

Stephanie@Fairday's Blog said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed this one. It sounds like it has some good things going for it. I don't really know much about apples, so I guess I would learn a lot too. :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)