At the Edge of the Orchard
A NovelAudiobook CD - 2016
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This work of historical fiction follows the story of the Goodenough family as they settle where their wagon wheels got stuck, in the muddy swamps of Ohio. The story begins in 1838 as James desperately tries to cultivate 50 fruit bearing apple trees so that his family can keep the claim on their land. He carefully tends to the orchard, which reminds him of an easier life back in Connecticut. However, his wife Sadie hasn’t adjusted quite so well. The hard pioneer life, deaths of children to the swamp fever, and a lack of spousal appreciation have made Sadie a bitter woman who prefers drinking alcoholic applejack and tormenting her children and husband.
Only the youngest son Robert, born in Ohio, seems built to handle the brutal pioneer life. He alone takes an interest in learning apple tree tending from his father and possesses the ability to understand and cope with his mercurial mother. The story then jumps forward to 1853, where after years of wandering across America, Robert has ended up in the California Gold Rush. There he becomes a plant agent, collecting seeds and saplings to be sent across the ocean to grow in English gardens. An event occurs where Robert’s past catches up with him and he must decide to either keep running or finally settle down and make a home at last.
Tracey Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, crafts a beautiful tale of early pioneer life. The text cleverly shifts from third person narrative telling James’ story to first person with Sadie’s. In this manner, we understand the motivations of both spouses and can understand and pity their tragic current situation. The rich descriptions Chevalier employs allows us to appreciate the beauty and precarity of the pioneer life. She doesn’t romanticize it, but rather, we have a deeper understanding of what real people would have lived through on a day to day basis. The impeccable research and inclusion of real historical figures (including Johnny Appleseed and plant collector William Lobb) enrich the story without ever feeling didactic. The narration in this audiobook is superb. The use of multiple narrators makes for a very enjoyable listening experience, and their mastery of various accents allows the listener to hear multiple characters.
After reading this book, you may feel like you know how to survive in a pioneer environment, or at the very least, have a strong desire to grow your own apple tree.
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