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At the Edge of the Orchard
Cover of At the Edge of the Orchard
At the Edge of the Orchard
A Novel
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"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...
"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...
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  • "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, 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.
    From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpts-

  • From the book ***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

    Copyright © 2016 Tracy Chevalier

    BLACK SWAMP, OHIO

    Spring 1838

    They were fighting over apples again. He wanted to grow more eaters, to eat; she wanted spitters, to drink. It was an argument rehearsed so often that by now they both played their parts perfectly, their words flowing smooth and monotonous around each other since they had heard them enough times not to have to listen anymore.

    What made the fight between sweet and sour different this time was not that James Goodenough was tired; he was always tired. It wore a man down, carving out a life from the Black Swamp. It was not that Sadie Goodenough was hung over; she was often hung over. The difference was that John Chapman had been with them the night before. Of all the Goodenoughs, only Sadie stayed up and listened to him talk late into the night, occasionally throwing pinecones onto the fire to make it flare. The spark in his eyes and belly and God knows where else had leapt over to her like a flame finding its true path from one curled wood shaving to another. She was always happier, sassier and surer of herself after John Chapman visited.

    Tired as he was, James could not sleep while John Chapman's voice drilled through the cabin with the persistence of a swamp mosquito. He might have managed if he had joined his children up in the attic, but he did not want to leave the bed across the room from the hearth like an open invitation. After twenty years together, he no longer lusted after Sadie as he once had, particularly since applejack had brought out her vicious side. But when John Chapman came to see the Goodenoughs, James found himself noting the heft of her breasts beneath her threadbare blue dress, and the surprise of her waist, thicker but still intact after ten children. He did not know if John Chapman noticed such things as well—for a man in his sixties, he was still lean and vigorous, despite the iron gray in his unkempt hair. James did not want to find out.

    John Chapman was an apple man who paddled up and down Ohio rivers in a double canoe full of apple trees, selling them to settlers. He first appeared when the Goodenoughs were new arrivals in the Black Swamp, bringing his boatload of trees and mildly reminding them that they were expected to grow fifty fruit trees on their claim within three years if they wanted to hold on to it legally. In the law's eyes an orchard was a clear sign of a settler's intention to remain. James bought twenty trees on the spot.

    He did not want to point a finger at John Chapman for their subsequent misfortunes, but occasionally he was reminded of this initial sale and grimaced. On offer were one-year-old seedlings or three-year-old saplings, which were three times the price of seed- lings but would produce fruit two years sooner. If he had been sensible—and he was sensible!—James would simply have bought fifty cheaper seedlings, cleared a nursery space for them and left them to grow while he methodically cleared land for an orchard whenever he had the time. But it would also have meant going five years without the taste of apples. James Goodenough did not think he could bear that loss for so long—not in the misery of the Black Swamp, with its stagnant water, its stench of rot and mold, its thick black mud that even scrubbing couldn't get out of skin and cloth. He needed a taste to sweeten the blow of ending up here. Planting saplings meant they would have apples two years sooner. And so he bought twenty saplings he could not really afford, and took the time he did not really have to clear a patch of land for them. That put him behind on...

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 7, 2016
    Chevalier may not be able to trump her wildly successful second novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring, but her eighth outing is a compelling showcase of 19th-century American pioneering spirit in which a family from Connecticut struggles to establish an apple orchard in the swamplands of Ohio. James Goodenough can trace his family and his beloved Golden Pippin apples back to England, though he seeks his own future away from his family's farm. The story of his adventure going west unfolds from his point of view as well as from that of Sadie, his contentious wife, a tough woman with a wild libido and a hankering for applejack. True-life figure John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) plays a role in the Goodenoughs' fortunes, as does British plant collector William Lobb, who becomes a key figure to James and Sadie's youngest son, Robert, when circumstances force him to flee Ohio and make his own life on the West Coast. Against a backdrop of family travails in Ohio and personal revelations in California come intriguing facts about apples, such as their division into "eaters" and "spitters" (used for apple cider and applejack), as well as how American pine trees, redwoods, and Sequoias were painstakingly introduced to England. The author's insightful observations about domestic life and the pull of relationships bring depth to a family story that inevitably comes full circle in a most satisfying way.

  • Kirkus

    December 15, 2015
    Spanning 15 years and a journey from the Black Swamp of northeastern Ohio to California's redwood forests, Chevalier's (The Last Runaway, 2013, etc.) latest draws readers into the simple highs and the frequent lows of 19th-century pioneer life. When it comes to apples, James Goodenough "craved them more than whiskey or tobacco or coffee or sex." His supplier of seeds and saplings, John Chapman (the real-life Johnny Appleseed) provides trees, applejack, and life-saving wisdom for the Goodenough family. After nine years (and five deceased children) in the Black Swamp, John and his wife, Sadie, are at odds, he preferring to grow sweet apples, or "eaters," she preferring to grow sour apples, or "spitters," that can be made into cider and applejack. Sadie's mean streak and taste for alcohol drive the family to a breaking point before the narrative skips ahead to their youngest son Robert's solo journey across the West. The strongest part of the novel, which depicts the crackling rage and poignant struggle of the Goodenough's swamp-orchard life, comes to an end too soon, and readers are catapulted onto the road with Robert before it's made clear why he left home. Separated by a series of letters Robert writes home to his siblings, the Ohio and California portions of the novel seem almost to be two different books. The relief of Robert's escape from a dysfunctional childhood is contrasted with his crushing loneliness and his longing for Goodenough apples that can't be found outside the swamp. Nonfictional details bring the novel authenticity, often at the expense of character development or narrative cohesion.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    October 1, 2015
    In this latest pearl from Chevalier, James and Sadie Goodenough settle in 1838 Ohio with their five children and plant seedlings provided by a man named John Appleseed. James loves the apples, put-upon Sadie loves the applejack, and their marriage founders. Fifteen years later, son Robert escapes his shattered family in California's dense redwood forests.

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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