The Blue Orchard by Jackson Taylor
Verna Krone’s family has very little money and her father is of a very advanced age. In order to help support her parents and younger siblings, she has to leave school at the age of 14 in order to be the hired girl for another family. Unfortunately, the man of that house is completely unable and unwilling to keep his hands to himself, and Verna finds herself ‘in trouble.’ Although a potion from a midwife keeps the neighbors from finding out what was done to Verna at the hands of her employer, this was all simply the beginning of her trouble with men.
Verna pretty much has one crappy job after another – and during the Great Depression – and one crappy boyfriend after another. Eventually, though, she manages to make it through nursing school and ends up employed by a a black doctor, Dr. Crampton, who is not only in the center of political life, but also the purveyor of ‘illegal surgeries’ to end unwanted pregnancies. As Dr. Crampton’s political influence begins to wane, Verna’s life begins to fall apart.
This was a very interesting story, made even more interesting based on the fact that this story was based largely on the story of the author’s grandmother – right down to her name. Knowing that this was a largely true story gave it much more power. That being said, I thought it got just a little bit slow in the middle. I think that much of her soul-destroying work history could have been elided, as I thought her early story and her time working for Dr. Crampton were the most interesting aspects of her story.
Although I think the work could have been a little shorter, the storyline was very interesting and the writing was fantastic. Taylor writes “The Blue Orchard” in present tense which can occasionally pull me out of the story, but I think that in this case it lent itself to a feeling of immediacy and envelopment in Verna’s life. I was so engaged in the story that I actually had to go back after finishing the book to see whether or not Taylor had continued to use present tense throughout the entire novel, because I honestly had no idea.
A very interesting novel about a woman trying to make her way in the world during a very difficult period, and constantly questioning her own beliefs about the prevailing mortality of her time. Recommended.
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