Intense story of pioneer life

At the Edge of the Orchard - Tracy Chevalier

This is an intense story of a married couple, Sadie and James Goodenough, and their children who settled in the swamps of Ohio in 1838. James has a love of apples and struggles with the muddy swampland to grow an apple orchard.  He buys his seeds and saplings from none other than Johnny Appleseed.  James loves the sweet apples but his wife Sadie loves the sour apples, called spitters, as those she can use to make applejack, which helps her escape the trials of the swamp.  The biggest trial they face is swamp fever, which constantly threatens the lives of them and their children.


This is a dark book about a terribly troubled marriage. As their anger and disillusionment escalate, the book veers off from the swamp to follow the Goodenough’s youngest son, Robert, as he breaks away from the family to head west to California’s gold rush.  Due to the love of apples that Robert learned at his father’s side, he eventually becomes a tree agent, collecting seeds and saplings to be sent to England.  His story is told in part through his letters back home, to which he receives no response although his beloved sister Martha has also been diligently sending off letters.  The author does revisit Ohio to tell of the tragedy that sent Robert away from home and what Martha endured after Robert left.


This author is meticulous in her research, not only into the lives of those who lived in the swamps of Ohio during that period of time and the California Gold Rush, but also the growing and nurturing of trees, which I found to be very interesting. This is a very good story about an unforgiving land and those who tried to endure there.


This book was given to me by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.