Monthly Archives: May 2016



At the Edge of the Orchard
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Viking 2016
Hardcover Edition: 285 pages
Source: Library copy

Often, it was the worst hard times that befell those individuals who traveled west and settled our great country. Has there ever been a more difficult environment than Black Swamp, Ohio? Living the life of Sadie and James Goodenough and their many children mired in the mud trying to create an orchard, Chevalier totally convinces the reader how tough they had it. What a battle it was! What a toll it took on the lives and the hearts of those folks.

Just like trees grow, sometimes against great odds, so hope struggles to survive. The youngest child Robert chases seeds and trees all the way to California. The story mired in the mud becomes more beautiful as time passes. One might not see the beauty as clearly if it weren’t for the mud.

Events are not related chronologically. The order in which lives are revealed adds to the interest and understanding of this story. In her acknowledgements Tracy Chevelier states the seed for this book came from a chapter on apples by Michael Pollan and also tells us she was influenced by Conrad Richter’s trilogy of novels about settler life in Ohio. Knowing a bit about the sources, this reader did not wonder that this read is so enjoyable. The details of life, the details of apple growing plus a story structure somewhat similar to James Goodenough’s grafted trees brings the characters and their stories increasingly to life with each turn of a page.

Life lurches along somewhat crazily in the first half of the nineteenth century for James and Sadie in the Ohio swamp struggling with their apple trees, and for their son Robert collecting seeds and saplings from redwoods and sequoias in California. But then I guess that is life, no matter the era. There’s a magnificent and quirky charm to this story. Making a living from the land is never easy, no matter the particulars. The relationship of humans with the land and with each other gives sweet and sour food for thought.