This is Tracy Chevalier’s eighth novel and I’ve been a huge fan of her work since reading Girl with a Pearl Earring in 1999. Sadly, At the Edge of the Orchard left me disappointed. The subject matter, as always with Chevalier, was meticulously researched and vividly portrayed, but the plot felt rather jumbled together, the ending somewhat improbable.
Set in 1838, James and Sadie Goodenough are pioneers trying to carve out a life in the inhospitable, stagnant swamplands of northwest Ohio. They and their 5 children work relentlessly planting apple trees in order to stake their claim on the land. We follow the family’s bleak journey full of horrific struggles over the next fifteen years.
The characters are sharply drawn and compelling with clear, individual voices and I loved the fact I was introduced to a subject and place I knew nothing about. Chevalier describes the sequoia trees and endless landscapes with rich intensity. But the plot seemed bumpy, rushed and overly melodramatic, the ending predictable and disappointing. However, Chevalier’s ability to evoke a period in history and take you to that very place is unsurpassed. The novel left me wanting to learn how to graft apple trees and experience the taste of a sweet Golden Pippin.
At the Edge of the Orchard is published by The Borough Press – HarperCollins, 300 pages.