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At the Edge of the Orchard (2016)

by Tracy Chevalier

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9616422,285 (3.68)54
Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:“With impeccable research and flawless prose, Chevalier perfectly conjures the grandeur of the pristine Wild West . . . and the everyday adventurers—male and female—who were bold enough or foolish enough to be drawn to the unknown. She crafts for us an excellent experience.”
USA Today

From internationally bestselling author Tracy Chevalier, author of A Single Thread, comes a riveting drama of a pioneer family on the American frontier

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.
 
1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.
 
Chevalier tells a fierce, beautifully crafted story in At the Edge of the Orchard, her most graceful and richly imagined work yet.
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English (57)  French (2)  Italian (2)  Spanish (2)  Catalan (1)  All languages (64)
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
This is the kind of historical fiction I love: strong sense of time and place, interesting characters, and the opportunity to learn about something new. In this one, Chevalier has created a fascinating character in Robert Goodenough who flees his family's farm in Ohio in 1838 after tragedy strikes. He grows up with the young nation and almost embodies the idea of Manifest Destiny - continually moving westward and expanding his horizons. Most of the story is about his time in California where he assists a tree and plant collector who sends specimens to England. There is a bit of heavy-handed metaphor in the story about apples and sin, and some of the plot details beggar belief, but overall, this was an engrossing read. Chevalier rarely disappoints.

4 stars ( )
  katiekrug | Feb 25, 2024 |
This novel was at its best in the first half, where the author painted the lives of a pioneering family. The insights into each of the flawed characters made them seem very real, and if I couldn't entirely sympathize with them all, I could at least understand their motivations and what made them tick. Even the horrible Sadie had sorrows and frustrations that I could connect with. Had the author chosen to end the story with the family in Ohio, this would have been a very good novella. But the second half, which follows one son's journey to manhood, was at first so dull that I had to consciously power through it for a while. Too many new characters were introduced, with so superficial an insight that I'm not sure what purpose they served, other than to prop up the story's events. Robert's eventual character arc was interesting enough in the end to have made the time spent on this story not completely wasted, but honestly, I'd have been more satisfied had I DNF'd at the half-way point.

Audiobook version, borrowed from my public library via Overdrive. The performance by a cast of readers was very good, but Cassandra Morris as the voice of Sadie deserves special mention - she made that character come alive. ( )
  Doodlebug34 | Jan 1, 2024 |
At the Edge of the Orchard seemed like a good follow up to Frazier and again, I was not disappointed by Tracy Chevalier's tale of America through the lens of its trees, starting in an apple orchard in Ohio where two mismatched people attempt to raise a family amidst their battles over apples. Their son Robert escapes after a brutal event and ends up in California, wandering amongst the redwood and sequoia groves. Eventually, Robert's past catches up with him, and he is forced to face his decisions and responsibilities. Chevalier included the enigmatic apple guru, Johnny Appleseed, as an early character, paddling his canoe filled with seedlings and saplings for sale and handing out seeds for free.

A well-told tale of life in early 19th century America. ( )
  witchyrichy | Apr 30, 2023 |
so, very, ve-ry sl-ow mo-ving.... ( )
  Kimberlyhi | Apr 15, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
The juice of Apples likewise, as of pippins, and pearemaines, is of very good use in Melancholicke diseases, helping to procure mirth, and to expel heavinesse.
-John Parkinson, Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris, 1629
To the spirit bowed with affliction, or harrowed with cares, a pilgrimage to these shadowy shrines affords most soothing consolation. Behold the evergreen summits of trees that have withstood the storms of more than three thousand years!...While lost in wonder and admiration, the turmoil of earthly strife seems to vanish. -Edward Vischer, The Mammoth Tree Grove, Calaveras County, California, 1862
Go West, young man, and grow up with the country. -- John Babsone Lane Soule, 1851, and Horace Greeley, 1865
Dedication
For Claire and Pascale finding their way in the world
First words
They were fighting over apples again.
Quotations
She'd had a terrible time with his brothers' wives: seeing her with them was like watching someone pet a cat against its fur.
"What about the seedlings?"
"Of the four I brought back, two are still growing; the other two perished after being transplanted into English soil, the like of which probably shocked them to death after the Californian soil they were accustomed to. I myself felt rather similarly."
She held herself like a ship steering a slow, proud passage through calm waters.
The words cut through the air like a knife through meat—resistant, and then gliding effortlessly.
it was hard to imagine Molly and Jimmy living at Mrs. Bienenstock's. He was pretty sure no woman had ever entered the boardinghouse apart from Mrs. B. herself, and a baby there would be like a yellow dress at a funeral.
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Fiction. Literature. Historical Fiction. HTML:“With impeccable research and flawless prose, Chevalier perfectly conjures the grandeur of the pristine Wild West . . . and the everyday adventurers—male and female—who were bold enough or foolish enough to be drawn to the unknown. She crafts for us an excellent experience.”
USA Today

From internationally bestselling author Tracy Chevalier, author of A Single Thread, comes a riveting drama of a pioneer family on the American frontier

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.
 
1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.
 
Chevalier tells a fierce, beautifully crafted story in At the Edge of the Orchard, her most graceful and richly imagined work yet.

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