At the Edge of the Orchard

At the Edge of the Orchard

Book - 2016
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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 so they can stake their claim on the property. 1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, 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, her most graceful and richly imagined work yet.
Publisher: New York, New York :, Viking,, [2016]
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9780525953005
Characteristics: 289 pages ;,22 cm.


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Jan 06, 2021

"At the Edge of the Orchard" tells the story of pioneer stock that probably should never have made the journey to settle in Ohio territory.

Forced to leave home in Connecticut due to family strife James and Sadie Goodenough travel down Lake Erie to the Black Swamp in Ohio. They settle in a wet, insect infested, boggy area. Part of the requirements for homesteading in Ohio is to establish an orchard--it shows the settlers intent for longevity. The Goodenoughs could not have chosen a worse place to plant apple trees. Apple trees require sunshine, good soil to put down their roots, freedom from disease. The swamp was not that place. Plus, Ohio at that time was heavily wooded-oak, buck-eye and other hardwoods with massive root-systems that made it almost impossible to clear the land.

The orchard and the apple trees are metaphors for the Goodenough family-a dysfunctional family that tried to put their roots in the wrong place. James and Sadie should never have married and as they struggle the apple trees become the catalyst for many fights. They have ten children, two die in the first couple of years in the swamp from swamp fever (malaria?); then they lose three more in infancy. The reader learns that of the remaining five only two, Martha and Robert, have redeeming qualities.

Due to a family tragedy, Robert is forced to leave home at about the age of 10, leaving Martha behind, a decision that haunts him. The story progresses over the next 18 years as Robert moves west ending up in California. His roots and foundation have never left him - his love of trees leads him to a life-changing job in the redwood and giant sequoia groves. Now he must make more decisions. His past catches up with him.

When Martha and Robert are reunited, she brings with her seeds from the Golden Pippin apple trees back home. She says, "I know they'll mostly turn out to be spitters, but isn't one in ten trees usually an eater if you plant them from seed?" I wanted Martha and Robert to beat the odds. I wanted both of them to be eaters. They both had survived so much, had such a strong will, I wanted them both to have a happy future.

The book is well researched. John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed), William Lobb and Billie Lapham did exist. The use of letters to cover 18 years of Robert's journey across American and Martha's detective work to locate him kept the book from getting bogged down in a lot of detail. But the book is sad. I am glad the book was fairly short because I would probably never have finished it. There is some redemption in the end, some hope for the future. But I wanted something more positive.

Aug 19, 2019

I did not care for this book.
The description given for it sells it way too much. There is hardly an adventure. The writing is painfully slow. The first 2/3rds of the book are characterization. There isn't much of a story until the last 3rd. Also, its pretty depressing and kind of an exhausting read because it is devoid of any happiness.

Jan 04, 2019

An interesting book for readers that live in the Bay area.

Sep 30, 2017

I'm not sure how I feel about this book. It was interesting and kept me reading. The time period and historical detail covered is fascinating. Some characters and what they endured was not easy to read, although, sadly, not unrealistic. The environments and how the characters endured or thrived was really well done. It is not a feel good book, but the pioneering times were not feel good times.

Aug 11, 2017

I've read several of Tracy Chevalier's books starting with the Girl with the Pearl Earring because I had an interest in Vermeer and often prefer my history to come in the package of well written historical fiction. I must say that I'm a bit surprised by many of the comments for this one, as I think it is one of her best. Maybe it's because I'm a transplant to Ohio and have also been overwhelmed by the sight of redwoods and giant sequoias. I loved the sections of letters and how they tied the story together. On the back cover it was praised by Joanne Harris-another of my favorite storytellers.

Jun 25, 2017

The Goodenough family faces many internal conflicts, as well as external conflicts as the Black Swamp of Ohio tries its hardest to work against them. The only thing the Goodenoughs seem to truly succeed at is planting, grafting, and harvesting 50 apple trees in their swampy territory. The apple trees bring more joy to the father, James, than his own family does. And the only reason why the mother, Sadie, puts up with the apples is that she can make applejack from them. The children have to deal with the repercussions of an irresponsible mom and a distant dad whose dislike for each other grows stronger. Soon, Robert Goodenough finds himself breaking away from his family, planting his feet in gold rush California. However, the conflicts he faced were never fully resolved, and his past still follows him, many years later.
At the Edge of the Orchard begins depressing and troublesome, but slowly changes in tone to more peaceful and resolved over the course of events. Very well-researched, from the different kinds of trees to the history of apples and people. Sadness and hard times reflected on the pioneer days of America, but joy is also prevalent, telling of the successes that made frontier life easier.

Oct 10, 2016

I decided I didn’t like this book, but I decided I was wrong. The story of a pioneer family in a swampy area of Ohio was so depressing, but I kept reading and I’m so glad I did. That depressing story was necessary to set the background for a brother and sister who flee the depressing life. Well-written this story will grab you and have you cheering, and crying as you discover what happens to Robert and Martha.

SPL_Sonya Sep 25, 2016

The Edge of the Orchard, by Tracy Chevalier, is the story of a family desperately coping with the hardships of pioneer life in mid 1800's Ohio. The author, who is best known for her novel Girl with the Pearl Earring, depicts the time period and setting with well researched, beautifully descriptive detail. She portrays her well developed characters and their dire situation without whitewash, leaving readers to mourn a broken family but later celebrate a new generation. The Edge of the Orchard is a serious and sombre look at pioneer life which would appeal to those who enjoy literary / historical fiction. It would especially appeal to those with an interest in botany. The author has gone to great lengths to research the trees and plants native to California.

Jul 15, 2016

An apple called the Golden Pippin is at the heart of Chevalier’s latest historic novel. We encounter Johnny Appleseed on his sojourns through early Ohio settlements and plant collector William Lobb in California among the redwood and sequoias. But, it’s the family story of James and Sadie Goodenough and their son Robert that are center stage.

Reading this book I thought of a trilogy of books I read in the 1990s about early Ohio by Conrad Richter, including one called ‘The Trees.’ Sure enough, he’s mentioned in her acknowledgements. Some of my own family were early Ohio immigrants. I still think of the density and darkness of the forest they needed to tame and how they kept their sanity. My family went further west just like Robert!

Jul 09, 2016

I've enjoyed Tracy Chevalier's other books, but I didn't really care for this one. I didn't like any of the characters, and the writing wasn't engaging. The story was quite heavy as well. There were some interesting details about apples and trees, though.

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Aug 19, 2019

rachelhpayne thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


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Jan 06, 2021

Martha says, speaking about Golden Pippen apples, "I know they'll mostly turn out to be spitters, but isn't one in ten trees usually an eater if you plant them from seed?"


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