The Edge of the Orchard–Tracy Chevalier

My goodness, but don’t the Goodenough’s put the fun in dysfunctional?

1838 Ohio wilderness, and circumstances work against James Goodenough. Since he can’t get his wagon free of the muddy bog, he decides that this is a good enough (pun intended) place to homestead. For the remainder of his life, he fights the frontier elements and his unhinged wife to try to establish an apple orchard in territory that is not suited for it.

Sadie Goodenough, who believes she deserves a better life than the one she’s stuck with, quickly becomes my favorite character, simply because she’s just so amoral (always fun to read about; not so much to have to deal with IRL, right?) She’s an unfaithful wife, a boozer, disinterested in wifely or motherly duties; she’s just the craziest. And poor, good-hearted James simply endures her many tirades and escapades–until the final one.

The human characters all portray the bleak slog that is life, the hopelessness that life can become, and the redemption that life offers, and they do all this in the most morose, downtrodden circumstances. The death of the Goodenough parents (no spoilers, don’t worry) was the most horrific/funny scene I’ve encountered in a good long while.

The other characters, though, are the flora and fauna; the apples, especially the Golden Pippen, the apple trees, the California sequoia, the seeds. This story of struggle and ultimate redemption left me unsettled. Even Robert, who ultimately finds his way out of the dark abyss of life, is a broken soul. There are no sympathetic characters here, no one to root for, except maybe the spindly Golden Pippen trees struggling for survival in the wilderness.