Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"At the Edge of the Orchard" by Tracy Chevalier: A Review

Goll Woods, near the setting for At the Edge
of the Orchard
, gives us a glimpse of what
the Great Black Swamp was like in the 1800s.
I live in the Great Black Swamp. I've lived here my entire life and am fascinated by the fact that people now actually inhabit this once inhospitable place. In the last 160 years, it has been developed into a place of rich farmland and is home to one of the largest wind energy sources in the region. The Goodenoughs in At the Edge of the Orchard wouldn't recognize the place.

1838 northwest Ohio's Great Black Swamp is the backdrop for Tracy Chevalier's newest novel, just released a week ago (March 15, 2016). She provides a vivid description of the tough life many had while trying to establish a home there, but James and Sadie Goodenough had more problems than just the muddy, mosquitoey swamp to contend with, and many of them were of their own making.

One way to claim ownership of land in the area was to establish an orchard on it, and these were the days when John Chapman (you may recognize him as Johnny Appleseed) traveled the area, selling apple seeds and saplings just for this purpose. Apples suited both James and Sadie just fine, but for different reasons - he liked eating them, while Sadie preferred to drink hers.

While the quarrels over apples might seem a slight thing upon which to base a novel, it's a brilliant impetus for how the rest of the story plays out. No spoilers here, but those apples created quite a legacy for themselves in the lives of the Goodenoughs and particularly for son Robert.

"You can run, but you can't hide" becomes the story in the end, and as I neared the final pages, I wondered how it would all wrap up. I've read quite a few books lately that left me unsatisfied somehow, when I closed them for the final time, but this isn't one of them.

Though I wouldn't put it in my Top Five Most Favorite Books, it has earned a well-deserved spot in my permanent personal library. Historical fiction fans won't be disappointed. This is my favorite genre when done well. Tracy Chevalier has done it in At the Edge of the Orchard.

The pace is perfect, the unique method of transitioning both time and place is effective and smooth, and the manner in which the characters' voices are portrayed helps us understand them and their story even more. Not many authors could accomplish this as superbly.

Tracy Chevalier is the author of eight historical novels, including The Last Runaway, Remarkable Creatures, and the international bestseller Girl With a Pearl Earring, which has sold over 5 million copies and been made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. American by birth, British by geography, she lives in London with her husband and son and cat. Tracy is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and has honorary doctorates from her alma maters Oberlin College in Ohio and the University of East Anglia in England. Her website www.tchevalier.com will tell you more about her and her books.

I received a complimentary copy of At the Edge of the Orchard from the publisher for the purposes of review. All opinions expressed here are my own.


Lisa at Greenbow said...

Sounds like a good read.

RobinL said...

Hmmm, might have to read this one. I'm also interested in the Great Black Swamp. I know it isn't the thing to reclaim swamps these days, but this one seemed to work out well. For you anyway! LOL

Kylee Baumle said...

Lisa ~ I really enjoyed it!

Robin ~ Well, the Great Black Swamp was pretty massive, going from Ft. Wayne, IN, all the way to Toledo. It would be hard to imagine that remaining as a swamp today, when it's being used now for rich farmland. No doubt though, the reduction in wetlands has had some negative effects on the watershed. Some are being preserved and restored though.

You should plan a day to come up here and we can go visit Goll Woods together! It would be fun! They do recommend going in spring before the mosquitoes get going. Our daughter and son-in-law and grandson visited another woods near Goll - Litzenberg Woods - last summer, and had to leave because they were being eaten alive. Mosquitoes can be just horrendous here during summer, even with the swamp reclaimed!

Beth at PlantPostings said...

This sounds like a great book for my book club! I think I'll recommend it. Thanks!

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