cover image At the Edge of the Orchard

At the Edge of the Orchard

Tracy Chevalier. Viking, $26.95(304p) ISBN 978-0-525-95300-5

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. (Mar.)