The Orchard by Theresa Weir

On the cover of The Orchard an unblemished apple hangs from the branch of a tree, ripe for picking.  It’s an image that conjures up for me a famous, foreboding scene from literature:  Snow White unwittingly accepting the gift of a poisoned fruit.

And indeed, Theresa Weir’s memoir of her whirlwind romance and marriage to apple farmer Adrian Curtis is told in a manner reminiscent of a fairy tale.  The characters are few but memorable, and include an evil mother-in-law (in place of the evil stepmother), the handsome suitor, the gossipy villagers, the good-hearted neighbor and the beloved grandmother.  Dramatic things happen and are recounted in spare, sometimes stark language, without a hint of sentimentality.  The result is a book with many scenes with vivid images that linger in your memory.

Many of the most striking passages describe the business of apple farming.  The Curtis family has tended apple orchards for five generations, and their constant battle against insects has led them to embrace the use of pesticides.  Weir’s book explores how “the desperation to save something you’ve worked so hard to create” leads people to do things they know are dangerous.  Or as she puts it:  “the length you find yourself willing to go, the compromises you’re willing to make.  Just this once.”

But there is a price to be paid for their compromises and The Orchard is ultimately the story of what the quest for the perfect apple costs the author, her family and the land itself.  This is a bittersweet book, but I recommend it for its honesty about farming life and its portrayal of a marriage that no one thought would last, but to the surprise of many, including the couple themselves, does.

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