Saturday, April 9, 2016

At the Edge of the Orchard - Tracy Chevalier

This was a book my step-daughter got me for Easter, by the author of The Girl with the Pearl Earring, which I read many years ago.  It's the story of a family in the 1800's that moves from Connecticut to Ohio to create a homestead and grow apples.  The first half of the story tells of their struggles in Ohio and the second half is the life of their son who heads west for a better life.

I found the book painful to read because the mother, Sadie, is a mean-spirited, broken woman who abuses applejack and takes out her unhappiness on her children and husband.  He's completely absorbed in raising the apple trees and blandly overlooks her nastiness as long as the orchard thrives. Johnny Appleseed is an occasional visitor to the family, feeding Sadie's need for hard cider.

The story shifts abruptly to their son, Robert, who strikes out as a teen for the west. He quickly wanders across America, ending up in California during the gold rush.  He hooks up with a botanist in the Calaveras big trees area, collecting seeds of the giant trees to be exported to England, all the time keeping a secret of his family's past.  We visited this park back in 2008 and I liked the backstory this book provided on its use in the 1800's.

There's a lot of research here on the life of pioneer settlers but with unlikeable characters, the story is hard to enjoy.

Published: 2016  Read: April 2016  Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 978 0 525 95300 5

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