Summertime: A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

vintage-postcards-1934

   In 1931, Smith College senior Lily Dane attends a football game with her friend Budgie Byrne to watch Budgie’s boyfriend play.  The two girls have been friends since they shared their first taste of ice cream summering at Seaview, Rhode Island, home to both families’ ancestral beach cottages.  As Budgie cheers on her all-star boyfriend, Graham Pendleton, Lily becomes mesmerized by the quarterback, piratically handsome (and Jewish) Nick Greenwald.

  Beatriz Williams, the author, terms the novel “High Society meets the Perfect Storm.”  http://bookmagnet.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/interview-with-beatriz-williams-author-of-a-hundred-summers/.  She says:

But the book is really about all the things that take place beneath the surface of a persona and a community, and the social and sexual turmoil that was turning everything upside-down in the years after the First World War. That’s the real storm taking place at Seaview and Western culture generally, and I think the book rewards a close attention to the details.

  (Note to self:  great tag line for a query.)

football-gamevsgallaudet

  Lily and Nick fall immediately in love and, on New Years’ Day in the middle of a snowstorm, elope.

  But in a parallel story line narrated by Lily in 1938 from Seaview, we discover that it is Budgie and Nick who are married.  Lily, her mother, her spicy Aunt Julie and Lily’s six year old sister Kiki must watch the Greenwald’s marriage from their beach house a few doors down.

  Amidst the romance, the frustration, the obvious broken-heartedness of both Lily and Nick, there are elements of class warfare, anti-Semitism, the crash of 1929, rumors of WW2 and the rise of Hitler and finally, the infamous northeast Hurricane of 1938 that decimated beach communities including Napatree Point, on which the fictional Seaview is based.  Williams’ harrowing description of the storm surge and its aftermath is particularly vivid.  This website has actual photos of the community before and after the hurricane, showing the devastation.  http://www.oocities.org/hurricanene/hurr1938.htm.  Napatree Point has never been rebuilt and is now a nature preserve.

  A Hundred Summers is a New York Times’ bestseller and Kirkus reviews calls it a candidate for the big beach read this year.  I enjoyed it immensely.  The delayed gratification and yearning of Lily and Nick is a stark contrast to much of today’s fiction.  It is a good, old-fashioned love story.  One review compared it to Daphne duMaurier.

   Williams’ website:  http://www.beatrizwilliams.com

postcard-chicago-exhibit-supply-company-arcade-card-woman-on-beach-profile-hand-on-head-1930s

MENU

Nick and Lily eat a lot of breakfasts and a lot of steaks.  There’s also quite a bit of champagne being quaffed, despite the impact of prohibition until 1933, and gin and tonics at the beach.  This would be my menu:

Gin & Tonic:  3 oz Gin, 4 oz Tonic, juice of 1/2 lime over tall glass of ice

Oysters Rockefeller.  Oysters Rockefeller was developed by Antoine’s in New Orleans, but it just seems to be like the perfect dish for this beachy, tony novel.  Here’s the supposedly original recipe:  http://www.gumbopages.com/food/app/erstas-rock.html.  That link alone has to merit a “like” for this blog post, doesn’t it, if not an actual follow?

Toast points with cream cheese and caviar

MUSIC

I recently caught a late night showing of Evil Under the Sun, a Peter Ustinov-as-Poirot 1930s-set Agatha Christie adaptation. Great movie, Maggie Smith, Jane Birkin, Roddy McDowell, James Mason, and Diana Rigg!  Gorgeous 1930s high fashion costumes.  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083908/?ref_=nv_sr_1.  But I digress:  the soundtrack was totally Cole Porter.   It’s available on iTunes.  It would be the perfect backdrop for a book club discussion of A Hundred Summers.  https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/evil-under-sun-music-from/id299660594.

MOVIE CASTING.  This would be a really good movie, along the lines of The Notebook, I think.

Nick:  I can’t find my Nick.  Suggestions?

Lily:  Jennifer Lawrence

Budgie:  Natalie Portman (wouldn’t she look divine in all those 1930s styles?)

Graham:  Armie Hammer

Enjoy!

*Images postcards except for the football game which was from a football archive, no photographer listed

Advertisements

Mrs. Rochester’s Room of Her Own: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

mulatto woman

  In Jean Rhys’ magnificent, sensual, masterpiece Wide Sargasso Sea, Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester is no romantic hero.  Rhys’ re-imagines how Mr. Rochester may have obtained the wife who so infamously dashes the chaste Jane’s dreams of marriage by her nightmarish presence in the Rochester attic, placing him in Spanish Town, Jamaica to receive a bride and 30,000 pounds in dowry with no provision made for his bride:  Antoinette, the beautiful, mulatto daughter of a deceased mad woman.

   Rochester makes no effort to instill any security in Antoinette or the stepfather who has sold her conveniently away during the wedding ceremony.  When he reaches their honeymoon house, Rochester describes the scene himself:

Two wreaths of frangipani lay on the bed.

“Am I expected to wear one of these?  And when?”

I crowned myself with one of the wreaths and made a face in the glass.  “I hardly think it suits my handsome face, do you?”

“You look like a king, an emperor.”

“God forbid, I said and took the wreath off.  It fell on the floor and as I went towards the window I stepped on it.  The room was full of the scene of crushed flowers.

   Soon, the man Rochester teaches Antoinette to love him but has only lust and disdain for her.  “She was as eager for what’s called loving as I was — more lost and drowned afterwards” and rely upon him.  And yet, he “did not love her.  I was thirsty for her, but that is not love.  I felt very little tenderness for her, she was a stranger to me, a stranger who did not think or feel as I did.”

  In Rhys’ novel, Edward eventually turns away from Antoinette, and it is her sexual frustration that drives her to become what we know as the madwoman in the attic.  As described by Charlotte Bronte in the original: “the clothed hyena rose up, and stood tall on its hind feet. . . it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal.”

   Re-reading Wide Sargasso Sea for this week’s book club discussion at the Carnegie Center, I found myself pondering Virginia Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Own.  As Woolf, so much more eloquently than I could, said:

[…]any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at. For it needs little skill in psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lost her health and sanity to a certainty.
   Where lies the boundary between creativity-sensuality-madness?  Is a creative woman, a sensual woman by virtue of this aspect therefore mad?  Or was she considered to be so at one point?  Antoinette yearns for beautiful clothes, for the fragrance and luxury of brilliant colored flowers, to dress her hair elegantly and to dance.
   A more recent article from Psychology Today develops the thoughts further.  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/lunacy-and-mad-doctors/201305/gaslight-stories-the-madwoman-in-the-attic
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar published their famous theory – that Bertha is Jane’s alter ego (a personification of the rage engendered by pent-up female energy, especially sexual energy) – in 1979, in their co-authored book, The Madwoman in the Attic. But despite Gilbert and Gubar’s sophisticated comparisons of the patterns of metaphor and imagery common to Jane’s experiences and Bertha’s back-story, Bertha actually appears to be – among many other things – a figure who shows the potential fate of a woman who in her early life failed to assert herself (as Jane asserts herself) and who took refuge in commonplace thoughts and activities. Bertha sought freedom in promiscuity and drink, but Jane knows, as Mr Rochester has learnt, that that kind of behaviour is an illusion of freedom – for man as much as for woman. If Bertha is an echo of anyone in the novel, it is surely Blanche Ingram – the vacuous, conventional drawing-room beauty that Bertha herself once was, in Spanish Town, Jamaica. Bertha is what happens when you have no true sense of a self, and the language used to describe Blanche and Bertha (in her youth) also bears comparison – they are raven-ringleted, dark-eyed and arrogant; and Blanche’s own mother is already exhibiting Bertha-like physical attributes: her features are ‘inflated and darkened’ and her eye is ‘fierce’.

a-mulatto-woman-eugene-delacroix-wikipaintingsorg-1371655153_b

   The book is a feast for discussion in language and topic.  I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

Book Club Menu:

Rum punch:  See recipe https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/necessity-invention-and-wings-the-invention-of-wings-by-sue-monk-kidd/

Fried Plantains:  Recipe Courtesy of Alton Brown, The Food Network

Ingredients
2 cups water
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1 1/2 cups vegetable or canola oil
2 green plantains
Directions
Combine water, garlic and salt in medium size glass bowl and set aside.

In a large (12-inch) saute pan, heat oil to 325 degrees F. Peel plantains and slice crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Carefully add plantains to oil and fry until golden yellow in color, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes per side. (The oil should come halfway up the side of the plantain). With a spider or slotted spoon, remove the plantains from the pan and place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, standing them on their ends. With the back of a wide, wooden spatula, press each piece of plantain down to half its original size. Then place the plantains in the water and let soak for 1 minute. Remove and pat dry with a tea towel to remove excess water.

Bring oil back up to 325 degrees F and return plantains to pan and cook until golden brown, approximately 2 to 4 minutes per side. Remove to a dish lined with paper towels, and sprinkle with salt, if desired. Serve immediately.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/fried-plantains-recipe.html?oc=linkback

Fish en Papillote

This is my recipe and it’s easy.  Use any fish you particularly like.  Put several vegetables in the bottom of a brown paper lunch bag with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.  Carrots, zucchini, summer squash, celery all work well.  Place the fish on top of the vegetables and then fold the bag over to seal.  Cook in 350 Degree oven for 20 minutes.  Serve over brown rice.

Agostino_Brunias_-_Market_Day,_Roseau,_Dominica_-_Google_Art_Project

Music

Something wild and caribbean!

Movie

There’s been a movie made of Wide Sargasso Sea and it’s wonderful (and very sexy).  http://youtu.be/tAzC5gSKM6E

220px-Sargasso1993

Enjoy!

Images

Mulatto Woman, Joanna Boyce Wells

Mulatto Woman, Eugene Delacroix

Market Day, Agostino Brunias

Special Delivery: The Whole Package, by Cynthia Ellingsen

boxes_                                                          9780425241349_TheWholePack_CV.indd

     Cynthia Ellingsen’s delightful debut novel The Whole Package delivers a powerful punch of humor when three female friends decide to pool their collective talents and open The Whole Package-the world’s first restaurant staffed exclusively by very attractive men.

   Cynthia very kindly agreed to answer a few questions and provide a book club menu for a group’s discussion of The Whole Package.  Cynthia is daeandwrite’s first guest blogger and I can’t thank her enough for joining in the fun.

daeandwrite:  Although externally the “battle of the sexes” seems to be a key to the plot, The Whole Package actually centers around three friends with history, secrets and perhaps one or two axes to grind.  I often find that the battle between men and women is often less stressful than that between women friends.  How important was it to you to depict both and how do you think the battles inform or influence one another?
 
Cynthia:  The Whole Package is about three best friends who open a restaurant staffed by scantily clad men, in response to Hooters. In my opinion, it’s completely bizarre that a restaurant like Hooters exists, so I wanted to turn the tables on the concept. As a result, I had a lot of fun depicting the battle of the sexes between men and women. Many of the conflicts that take place between the women happen due to differing opinions on the topic. For example, Doris finds it sexist and hurtful to audition and judge the men trying out for The Whole Package, while Cheryl feels the auditions are more than fair payback for how men set standards for women every day.
 
daeandwrite:  I really loved your restaurant concept.  I’ve been talking for years about starting a “Peckers” franchise using a nasally, well-endowed woodpecker as the corporate logo and featuring lots of hot dogs and wieners.  What sort of comments do you get from women readers?  And how about the men?  Has anyone taken your idea and run with it?
 
Cynthia:  Ha! It seems that countless women have thought about opening a restaurant like The Whole Package – and yes, they have also named their version brilliant monikers such as “Peckers”. In general, most men are vaguely uncomfortable with the idea…I wonder why? As for taking the idea and running with it, I’ve read of one or two similar restaurants that opened in real life but they didn’t last long.  
cute_cartoon_woodpecker_print-rf601e23406e54ae29f59fda921619ffb_igl_8byvr_512
 
daeandwrite:  Cheryl, Doris and Jackie have known each other since high school.  They grew up, parted and now in their forties, have returned to their hometown of Schaumburg, Illinois.  Do people change?  Have they or do they find in themselves pretty much the same girls they always have been?
 
Cynthia:  I think everyone has a pretty specific personality from the day they are born. That said, I enjoyed playing around with the idea of how life changes people on the surface, but not at the core. For example, Doris was a fun, mischievous girl in high school who becomes a frustrated housewife hooked on Xanax. But she reverts back to her true self around the friends who knew her back when. Also, she gets revenge on someone in the book by regressing back to a ridiculous revenge tactic she probably would have used in high school! 
daeandwrite:   The Whole Package is written in third-person but the narrative switches viewpoints between the women.  Did you ever long for the allure of first-person?  How did you decide on this format?
 
Cynthia:  My first two novels are both written in this style. I’m a huge fan of the late Maeve Binchy and she often tells stories in third-person, so that’s coming from her influence. In the novel I’m working on now, I’m writing from first person and it’s a whole new experience.  
daeandwrite:  The Whole Package was your debut novel and a rousing success.  How has your life changed?  Do you have future plans for The Whole Package?  
 
Cynthia:  The most exciting thing about the success of The Whole Package was its success overseas! It was a bestseller in Italy, so I have fantasies that the Italians will pour me extra wine and give me more pizza the next time I visit. But in reality, nothing much has changed. I still spend too much time alone, talking to imaginary people and telling stories… but maybe things have changed, because I now feel comfortable doing that.
 
daeandwrite:  Tell readers about your next book, Marriage Matters, and give us a preview of what you may be doing next.  
Cynthia:  Marriage Matters is hilarious and a lot of fun. It’s about a mother, daughter and grandmother who decide to share a wedding. It just came out in mass-market, so grab your copy today and definitely let me know what you think.  
daeandwrite:  OK.  It’s fantasy book club time.  When I host my book club discussion of The Whole Package, what food should I serve that is inspired by the book?  Do you have any favorite recipes you’d like to share?  What music (DISCO! comes to mind) should we listen to?  Do you have any actors/actresses in mind for Doris, Jackie and Cheryl?
 
Cynthia:  Food: I would definitely suggest serving some of the food the women serve when they are auditioning the chef – there’s a whole assortment of items in there. Perhaps do a spinach salad, lamb chops, pumpkin ravioli and – of course – tiramisu for dessert! Or the crème brulee Cheryl shares with Andy at their sexy date at Blackburn.
Recipes: Step One: Turn on fan. Step Two: Open door. Step Three: Stand by with fire extinguisher. (Obviously, I can’t cook.)  
Fire-Ex-Header-3
 
Music: Disco?! Hilarious. I was thinking more cheesy eighties musicLike, Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun ... One of my favorite visuals is on opening night, when one of the dancers starts snapping his fingers like Patrick Swayze in that big group scene from Dirty Dancing.
 
Actresses: When I first wrote The Whole Package, I wrote it with an older generation of actresses in mind. Jackie: Goldie Hawn, Cheryl: Tea Leoni and Doris: Kathy Bates. Since that is so ingrained in my head, I’m not sure who I would cast real-time. I could tell you in a flash for Marriage Matters… but you’ll just have to wait until next time. 
 
daeandwrite:  What are you reading?  
 
Cynthia:  Julie James, Anne Fortier, Wendy Wax, Karen White. Also, works in progress from the girls in my writing group – Jennifer Mattox, Frankie Finley and Stephanie Parkin. Recommendation to any potential writers – find a writer’s group! Not only does it hold you accountable for producing work, the right group can create an invaluable support system.
 
daeandwrite:  Are you in a book club?  
 
Cynthia:  Yes, I’m in a wonderful book club at Good Shepherd church. The books lean more to the literary side of things and I look forward to the discussions. If left to my own devices, I would read light-hearted fiction, so it’s nice to be introduced to multi-layered works. 
 
daeandwrite:  Thank you so much Cynthia Ellingsen.  Will you come back and guest blog on Marriage Matters?
 
Cynthia:  I do. I mean, I will. And readers, please stay in touch! You can reach me at Cynthiaellingsen@gmail.com or www.facebook.com/cynthiaellingsen I look forward to chatting with you!
The Whole Package
***Woody Woodpecker by

Strange and Beautiful Sorrow

Updated with a menu suggestion from Author Leslye Walton

daeandwrite

Image

     One of the most delightful surprises of my summer has been finding and reading The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton’s lovely modern day fairy tale of a girl born with wings.  Ava Lavender was to others “myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. . . . a monster, a mutation . . . an angel.”  But to herself, “I was just a girl.”

     Through three generations of matriarchy, Walton weaves a tale of mystery, magic and beauty.  Beauregard Roux and Maman leave their home in Normandy to come to America where Beauregard is certain his legendary skills as a phrenologist will soon have the family luxuriating in the gold that covers all of the streets of “Manhatine.”  Unfortunately, Beauregard has missed the big phrenology craze and falls into the river late one night, leaving Maman to care…

View original post 1,046 more words

Necessity, Invention and Wings: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

grimke

 According to the National Women’s History Museum, “Sarah Moore Grimke and Angelina Emily Grimké (shown above) were the only white people of either gender who were born in the upper-class South, but rejected that luxurious lifestyle to fight against slavery. They also were among the very first to see the close connection between abolitionism and women’s rights.”  http://www.nwhm.org.  The sisters were chased out of their home of Charleston, S.C. under threat of death and moved to Philadelphia.  From there, Angelina joined the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and wrote letters to newspapers protesting slavery from a woman’s point of view. This attracted the attention of abolitionists, who enlisted the Grimkes in the cause because they knew the cruelties of slavery firsthand.  When the sisters began making public anti-slavery speeches, even the Quakers grew disturbed and tried to stop them.  Despite the fierce opposition, north and south, the Grimke sisters became authors, public speakers, and activists at a time when women were not allowed to vote.

  Sue Monk Kidd, the author of The Secret Life of Bees, became fascinated by the Grimke sisters and made them the foundation upon which to build her novel The Invention of Wings.  She related the following to Oprah: “In 2007, I went to see Judy Chicago’s exhibition The Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum. There was a wall of women—a list of 999 who had made significant contributions to history, and lo and behold there were these two sisters from Charleston, the Grimkés. I was living in Charleston then, and I’d never heard of them, but after reading about them at the exhibit, I thought, “They should be as well known as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.”  http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Oprah-Talks-with-Sue-Monk-Kidd-About-The-Invention-of-Wings.

78755964      sue-monk-kidd-c-roland-scarpa_custom-9c154f9c7ed664dbb9ffdcbf33e64329c0a9da2e-s6-c30       harriet-powers-quilt-copy

   In Kidd’s novel, Sarah’s “present” for her 11th birthday is a human slave.  Hetty, a child of her own age, is given to Sarah.  Apparently this much is historical fact.  In Kidd’s novel, Sarah attempts to reject the gift, revolted at the thought of being owner of another human being and is punished by her family for her rebellion.  From that point, Kidd traces the relationship between Sarah and Hetty, during which the girls love one another and play together as Sarah teaches Hetty to read.  Eventually, Hetty comes to understand the reality of the situation and the resentment on her part grows as does Sarah’s frustration with her own inability to change things.

 Hetty and her mother Charlotte work as house servants for Sarah’s family, but Charlotte’s talent as a dressmaker is so great that her services are in demand from many others in town; so much so that Charlotte has hopes of buying her own and Hetty’s freedom.  In her very rare and secret personal time, Charlotte works on a quilt to tell future generations the story of her life.  According to a review in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the quilts are based on those made by a Harriett Powers, born a slave in Georgia, one of which is pictured above.

  Although there are elements of The Invention of Wings that reminded me of other books I’ve read recently, The Help, The Known World, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, Kidd does have a unique and historical tale to tell and she does it elegantly.  The Invention of Wings shifts chapters between first person narrators Hetty and Sarah and though each tell of Charlotte’s life, it may be that Charlotte has the best story to tell but we don’t hear from her personally.

  Kidd makes a point in interviews of noting this book is about city slaves/urban slaves.  The urban slavery is as treacherous and dangerous despite its location, which is vastly different from the Tara and Twelve Oaks settings often associated with slavery.  Most of The Invention of Wings occurs in Charleston, where “the slaves dominated the streets, doing their owners’ bidding, shopping the market, delivering messages and invitations for teas and dinner parties. Some were hired out and trekked back and forth to work… You could see them gathered at street corners, wharves and grog shops.”

  I can recommend The Invention of Wings as a choice for book clubs without hesitation.  The prose is well-done, the issues are interesting for discussion and it’s Charleston, S.C., so there’s good food to be had.

MENU

Dragoon Punch:  plays a big role in Sarah’s love affair

  • 4 cups raw sugar
  • 3 cups fresh lemon juice from about 24 lemons
  • 4 quarts black tea
  • 4 quarts brandy 
  • 1 quart rum 
  • 1/2 pint peach brandy 
  • Peels of 6 lemons, cut into slivers
  • 1 1/2 quarts soda water
  1. Combine sugar, lemon juice, tea, brandy, rum, peach brandy, and lemon peels in a large bowl. Stir until sugar is dissolved and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
  2. Add ice (preferably in one large block) and top with soda water before serving. Alternatively, top each glass with 1 ounce of soda water before serving.

Punch_bowl

   According to Kidd, breakfast was the largest meal of the day and she describes a breakfast with sausage, grit cakes, salted shrimp, brown bread and tapioca jelly.  I searched through my grandmother’s recipes and found one titled “Aunt Jessie’s Sausage.”  This would be my great-great aunt and I imagine my grandmother recorded this recipe somewhere around 1930.  I’ve copied it exactly, so from there, I’m not sure what you do.

Aunt Jessie’s Sausage

10 pounds meat                                   2 tablespoons sage

1 teaspoon red pepper                        2 tablespoon salt (not heaping)

1 tablespoon black pepper

Breakfast Shrimp Recipe from Saveur.com

Seining for small sweet creek shrimp is a favorite Lowcountry pastime, and happily results in this meal from Ben Moise’s The South Carolina Wildlife Cookbook (South Carolina Wild Life, 1981). Serve it with crisp bacon and a pot of steaming coffee.

2 lbs. small creek shrimp
1 small onion, finely chopped
1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper
3 tbsp. bacon fat
3 tbsp. flour
Hominy

1. Boil shrimp in 3 cups of water for 5 minutes. Cool shrimp, reserving liquid.

2. Cook onions and pepper in bacon fat. Add flour and stir until mixture begins to turn brown.

3. Pour in the shrimp liquid, and cook 2–3 minutes, stirring vigorously. Add shrimp, lower heat, simmer 4 minutes, and serve over hominy.

  Hetty’s Christmas plans include sorghum and corn fritters and nothing beats a little sorghum and butter on a corn or grit cake.

MUSIC

  I’ve mentioned before the wonderful recordings of the American Spiritual Ensemble and that would be a fine background for your book club.  I also found a recording of American Abolitionist music on amazon called Songs of the Abolitionists.

MOVIE CASTING

OK:  Now, let’s just be candid and say that the visual representations of the Grimke sisters do not show particularly, shall we say, movie star looks.  So ignoring their actual appearance, I certainly can see Helen Hunt and Toni Collette bringing the necessary chops and gravitas to the roles.  As for Hetty and Charlotte, Lupita Nyong’o will be offered everything from here to next Thursday, but she would be fabulous as Hetty.  And of course the same goes for Viola Davis.  But wouldn’t it be great to see them play mother and daughter?

Happy reading.

American as Apples: The Orchardist

Image

William Talmadge, the orchardist, tends to his apples as if the trees were his children.  It is the turn of the century in the Great Northwest and Talmadge is a gentle soul alone with his trees and his one in-town friend, Caroline Middey, for occasional company.  Talmadge has lived this lonely life since the disappearance of his sister, Elsbeth.  First-time novelist Amanda Coplin opens her book with a physical description of her protagonist:

“His face was as pitted as the moon. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and thick without being stocky, though one could see how he could pass into stockiness; he had already taken on the barrel-chested sturdiness of an old man. His ears were elephantine, a feature most commented on when he was younger, when the ears stuck out from his head; but now they had darkened like the rest of his sun-exposed flesh and lay against his skull more than at any other time in his life, and were tough, the flesh granular like the rind of some fruit. He was clean-shaven, large-pored; his skin was oily. In some lights his flesh was gray; others, tallow; others, red.”

It’s an unusual strategy but Coplin says, in an interview with The Oregonian, there was a reason for it.  “The book opens with a physical description of Talmadge that’s a direct physical description of my grandfather,” she says. “That’s something that I selfishly did to celebrate him, I guess, and my family too.”  http://s.oregonlive.com/A2hyJ7J.  Not surprisingly, Coplin grew up in Washington State’s Wenatchee Valley, among her grandfather’s apple orchards.  She writes poetically of the relationship between the man Talmadge and the trees he nurtures:  apples, plums, apricots.  Talmadge seems content with his Edenic life until one day, during his weekly trip to the market with a cart full of fruit, some of his merchandise is stolen by two teenage girls.  Rather than chase them or scold them, ImageTalmadge watches the girls, luring them closer with gifts of food, until they are willing to approach.  The girls are run-aways from a man and a life of horror. On some level in The Orchardist, Talmadge seems to see the young girls as some replacement for his mother and sister and taken them in to raise, teach and care for.  But women and apples.  Soon, the life Della and Jane sought to escape has returned for them.

The Orchardist is dense and chewy, I’ve seen reviews that likened it to the orchards themselves.  Sweet and dark.  Ultimately, because Ms. Coplin received an MFA and MFA recipients seem unable to write anything likely to be called a happy ending, as do all Edens, Talmadge’s comes to an end.  It’s a hard life, the earth is hard, and the world is changing, but to Talmadge the joys of living his days among God’s creations seem worth the sacrifices.

BOOK CLUB MENU

Image

Green Salad:  tear arugula and baby spinach into bite size pieces.  Cut up a very ripe plum into long, thin slices.  Sprinkle with sunflower seeds and drizzle olive oil and lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper.

Corncakes:  see https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/adventures-with-huckleberries/ for recipe

Fried Trout — this is one of the dishes Talmadge uses to tempt Jane and Della.  I wouldn’t make this, I would buy it.

Award-Winning Apple Pie

Land-O-Lakes Recipe for the Award-Winning Apple Pie:

http://www.landolakes.com/recipe/2038/blue-ribbon-apple-pie

MUSIC

Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, Andrews Sisters

The Gates of Eden, Bob Dylan

The Hazards of Love, entire album, The Decemberists

And finally, a special poem by my favorite poet

 After Apple-Picking Time by Robert Frost

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.