At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Published by The Borough Press
8th March 2016
What happens when you can’t run any further from your past?
Ohio, 1838. James and Sadie Goodenough have settled in the Black Swamp, planting apple trees to claim the land as their own. Life is harsh in the swamp, and as fever picks off their children, husband and wife take solace in separate comforts. James patiently grows his sweet-tasting ‘eaters’ while Sadie gets drunk on applejack made fresh from ‘spitters’. Their fighting takes its toll on all of the Goodenoughs – a battle that will resonate over the years and across America.
Fifteen years later their youngest son, Robert, is drifting through Gold Rush California and haunted by the broken family he fled years earlier. Memories stick to him where mud once did. When he finds steady work for a plant collector, peace seems finally to be within reach. But the past is never really past, and one day Robert is forced to confront the brutal reason he left behind everything he loved.
I’ve not read a novel by Tracy Chevalier in quite a while, so when I was asked if I’d take part in the blog tour for The Edge of the Orchard I jumped at the chance, even more so when I saw the gorgeous artwork for the book’s cover.This is another historical piece of writing, but this time set in America during the 1800s. It follows the Goodenough family as they initially move from Connecticut to Ohio, bringing with them species of apple trees to start their new life on unchartered lands. It’s not as easy as it may seem to make a new beginning from nothing, and soon Sadie and James are on opposite sides, one wanting to grow apples to eat, and the other wanting to grow apples purely for making applejack to drink and their feud continues to grow over the years they are living in the Black Swamp. Swamp fever slowly picks off their children one by one and life is hard, brightened briefly only by the arrival of John Chapman with his delivery of new saplings and seeds in order to help the Goodenough’s plant enough trees in order to be able to claim the land as their own. One feud too many though sees the family torn apart in a way no one could predict, and son Robert moves west, along with millions of other Americans prospecting for gold.
We join Robert some fifteen years later as he moves from job to job, never satisfied, never fulfilled by the work, or the land surrounding him. One day he comes across a group of trees that he has never seen before. They are larger in all dimensions that any he has ever come across, and in this moment he meets the man who will ultimately change the destiny of his life – William Lobb. Robert becomes a collector of seeds, a man who will help to bring new species overseas to wealthy clients in England who wish to grow new trees on their estates. As we journey west with Robert, we meet a whole host of other characters who will play vital parts in his life, and also catch up with some of those he thought he had left behind in Ohio.
This is a great book. It’s amusing at times, and at others, very moving. The characters come to life on the page and you can really feel the hardships of life in the American Midwest for those homesteaders. I loved the fact that some of these characters really did exist and that I had had the privilege to read about their achievements from so long ago. The artwork of the book pulled me in initially but soon the Goodenough family had me gripped to every page. At the Edge of the Orchard is a mesmerising read by an established author who stories keep on getting better in my opinion.
Miss Chapter x