“Actually trees are ruthless. They fight each other for light, for water, for all the good things that are in the ground. They only survive when they have enough space between them.”
Set in the early to mid-1800s, At the Edge of the Orchard brings the reader alongside an unhappy family struggling to settle the land that has trapped them – the Black Swamp in Ohio. Pushed out of the family farm in Connecticut due to lack of space, James Goodenough travels west with his family hoping to settle near Cleveland. There is no more room, so they keep moving west, eventually getting mired down in the mud of the swamp and staying. The Goodenoughs are tree people and James plans an orchard with the help of a traveling tree salesman – John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed).
I’ve read other books by Tracy Chevalier and have enjoyed them. They aren’t always the happiest of stories, but she can take the reader to a time and place and have them see the world at that time through the character’s eyes. At the Edge of the Orchard was published just this March and was a bestseller. I checked the ebook out from the library.
James’ wife, Sadie, enjoys one aspect of the apple trees – applejack. Despite bearing 10 children (a few of which have died along the way), she is an alcoholic and both James and Sadie are abusive. They fight with words, physically, through the children and with the trees. James believes in grafting, using special apple branches brought from home. His wife and Johnny Appleseed,believe in leaving nature alone.
The story switches focus from the parents to one of their sons, Robert, who witnesses a tragedy and flees. He moves north and south and west from job to job until finally meeting a botanist who collects and sells seeds and seedlings. His wanderings lead him to not get too tied to people or things (he doesn’t name his horse), but life soon presents him with an opportunity for redemption. Will he see it and take it or continue on a path that he feels he deserves?
This was an interesting read and I would recommend it to any adult as it deals with death, domestic violence, child abuse, prostitution, rape and incest. It is a deep story that moves slow and steady.