At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy ChevalierFrom internationally bestselling author Tracy Chevalier, a riveting drama of a pioneer family on the American frontier
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 Roberts past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.
Chevalier tells a fierce, beautifully crafted story in At the Edge of the Orchard, her most graceful and richly imagined work yet.
At the Edge of the Orchard
Tracy Chevalier has said that her eighth novel, At the Edge of the Orchard, was written with the American Dream in mind; to challenge, more specifically, the lie that sits as its source. This, a book about one pioneer family's hardscrabble existence in bleakest 19th-century Ohio swamp-land, was written after a re-reading of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie; it was meant to unhinge the romanticising myth of the happy, wholesome family of that book, with Charles Ingalls, or "Pa", who Chevalier calls "bipolar", as its patrician heart. In that it more than succeeds, though the unstable force here is more the mother, Sadie Goodenough, than the father, James. They are a couple at war, and their children become the collateral damage. James is a gentle grower of apple trees; Sadie, harder-edged, is a maker of cider and drinks far too much of it.
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They fight each other for light, for water, for all the good things that are in the ground. They survive only when they have enough space between them. Bright eyes though that flashed and followed their own conversation.
Tracy Chevalier's latest novel further demonstrates her knack for creating a sense of place. Credit: Anthony Johnson. What an extraordinary talent Tracy Chevalier has for creating a sense of place. In Girl with a Pearl Earring it was the cobblestoned streets and damp cellars of Holland; in Remarkable Creatures it was the natural world, and in this, her eighth novel, Chevalier takes us helter-skelter, from the first sentence, into the world of apple orchards. They were fighting over apples again.
She has returned to the same period — and in part the same location, the pioneering settlements of Ohio — for her eighth novel, At the Edge of the Orchard. This time her settlers are first- and second-generation Americans making the no less arduous journey across the continent, from the east coast via Ohio to California in the wake of the gold rush. But the pastoral air conjured by the title is misleading. The making of patchwork quilts was a prominent image in The Last Runaway and there is a corresponding echo here; a quilt becomes a repository of memories, made up of scraps of clothing from family members and handed down through the generations. Chevalier has created a patchwork of stories in which some pieces stand out more than others; together they form a picture of lives wrested from an unforgiving land, but with a promise of renewal. Topics Fiction The Observer.
Chevalier has a well-earned reputation for having an eye for the smallest detail that secures the story in the era in which it is set. Her latest novel is richly evocative of a time when the land beyond the eastern seaboard of the US had to be claimed and tamed through grit and determination. In James and Sadie Goodenough have settle in the inhospitable Black Swamp of Ohio, planting their sorry plot of land with vegetables and precious apple trees. After years of harsh living, violence splinters the family and the eldest son, Robert, flees to California. His story is that of generations who traversed the uncharted swathes of the continent, hoping for a better life. Peppered with characters like folk hero Johnny Appleseed and plant hunter William Lobb, this is a beautifully constructed and delivered tale, honestly brutal and forgiving of human imperfection.