Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Blue Orchard

I saw this book while cruising through Barnes and Noble one day and the topic caught my attention. The book is a novel based on the author's grandmother's life during the first 50 years of the 20th century. Jackson Taylor's grandmother (Verna)was born to Irish immigrants and was raised in poverty. At the age of14, Verna had to leave school to help support her family. She was hired out to live with a family and do housework, etc. The man of the house began taking liberties with the young girl and Verna ended up pregnant. As her family realized that she was "in trouble", she was offered ways to end the pregnancy, and the baby was "spontaneously" aborted. Sadly, in the next couple of years, she becomes pregnant again and desperately wants to marry the father of the baby, who finally admits to her that he is already married. Verna had the baby, but asked her mother to raise him while she continued to work at her various positions.

Thus began the next 30 some years of Verna's working days. She continued to find positions as needed, but as the Great Depression worsened, jobs were harder to find. While helping out at a hospital following flooding, Verna met Dora who talked about wanting to become a nurse. Verna began to consider becoming a nurse herself and decided that she wanted to pursue it. She began to save money in order to pay for the schooling.

After Verna became a nurse, she learned that Dora was taking care of women at her apartment for a black doctor in town who was performing abortions. Verna eventually began helping Dora, until the doctor asked her to get her own place and start doing the same. The nurses made really good money doing this and the temptation was too great.

The book is really about vastly different relationships, including Verna's relationship with the Dr., her son that she did not raise, her husband, and her family. It is also about determination and "doing what is needed". The author did a really good job portraying the different relationships in the story.

I was struck with some of the author's writing...some examples:

After learning of a death of a friend who she cared deeply for: "There is no substitute for character and you never know where you'll find it. I weep at how many deaths we all endure before our own takes us."

Later, after the beloved Dr. had died: "When I was a child, loss was like an autumn leaf being carried downstream. I thought if one could just run swiftly enough, losses could be regained. As I matured the stream widened, the current grew stronger. Suddenly the losses weren't just leaves of branches but small bushes, one's innocent, my favorite schoolbooks, and even my ability to see; blind by the time I became an adult, I found that loss grew into a powerful, wide river; deep, swift, muddy, it swept away my past, my youth, and left me with a child who couldn't yet swim. Then I realized that there was no riverbank to climb up to, that what we're swimming in is not a river at all but an enormous gulf along the curve of a continent. I can and must choose either to get swept out to sea by the grief of it all, or to swim for as long as my body can endure.
All of a sudden I know that there is nothing wrong with me. It's just that my grief started early anticipating this season for mourning."

And at the end: "Already I know the baby has changed everything. There is something about finally seeing the proof that I am a grandmother that makes me stand prouder, as though the maturity, wisdom and hard work of my life have finally been tallied in my favor"....."I can't believe when I hold her small warm body in my arms how much she means to all of us. I can't help but think of all the unborn whose mothers don't know what to do with them, and here is one that has made such a difference. A baby can be a terror or it can be a dream. All I can do is weep for it all, the confusion, the mystery, and the bittersweet miracle."

This book is truly an amazing story. The author did a good job researching the events that occurred and made the story very readable.

I won't forget Verna for a long time.

1 comment:

Bybee said...

those are great quotes that you pulled out of the story. The storyline reminds me a little of a Korean novella called Three Days In That Autumn.