Monday, April 16, 2012

The Orchard: A Memoir by Theresa Weir — 240 pgs

Theresa was a girl who grew up in a very unconventional way. Her childhood included a mother who was extremely neglectful and who spent more time wooing various men than shaping her children’s lives. As a young adult, Theresa was shuffled from place to place with no one to love her or call her their own. That is, until her uncle invited her to help run his bar out in the middle of the country. Living on a fold-out couch in the bar, Theresa is swept away one night by the attentions of the son of the most prominent apple farmer in the state. After a brief but intense courtship, Adrian proposes marriage and Theresa accepts, never dreaming what her life might be like as the wife of an apple farmer who is one day set to inherit the huge farm. But problems arise almost instantly. Adrian’s mother, a cruel and cold woman, takes an instant dislike to Theresa and tries her best to separate the two. She also has an iron fist wrapped tightly around her son’s life and livelihood, and Adrian is bent to her will time and time again. Not even the neighbors expect Theresa to last out on the farm, where the two newlyweds live in a small rundown cottage reserved for the foreman of the ranch. As Theresa and Adrian navigate the first rocky months of their marriage, even they aren't sure it will survive. But survive it does, and though it doesn’t exactly flourish, there is a modicum of comfort in the family they build. However, things on the farm aren’t always what they seem, and the secret to producing those impeccable apples is slowly leaching its way into the lives of the family that runs the orchard. It's a secret that Theresa has been trying to deal with for years but it's only when the unthinkable happens that she begins to let the farm’s hold upon her life loosen. In this dark and foreboding memoir of Theresa’s life and marriage, secrets and vows come undone under the force of one very domineering woman and the control she feels unable to relinquish.

I initially wanted to read this book because I had heard so many great things about it from a handful of bloggers whom I trusted. I was also intrigued because memoirs are always my cup of tea and there was a touch of the mysterious and unfamiliar about it. When I picked it up, I knew very little about what was lurking within the pages but quickly became engrossed and sat and devoured this little memoir about a woman and man whose struggle is not only moving but potent as well. It was a story steeped in sadness and longing, and one that made me feel intense emotions of anger, frustration, and ultimately, betrayal. For such a short book, it packed an intense emotional punch, and while there was definitely an abundance of grief and heartache, there was also a quiet undercurrent of compassion and love sewing the disparate  patches of the story together.

Theresa is a free spirit. She has had to be, living with a family that is as untraditional as it gets. Life seems to have been overwhelming to her from an early age, and her mother’s inattention is something  she repeatedly flashes back to as she quickly jumps from engagement to marriage to motherhood. It would be unrealistic for Theresa not to harbor resentment towards her mother, but in a truly enlightened way, Theresa never makes the mistakes that her mother did when embarking upon her own life as a wife and mother. Though she and Adrian have their fair share of problems, Theresa feels honor and duty bound to quash the disruptions between them, and though her marriage is never what anyone would call picture perfect, there is a comfort and ease between the Theresa and her husband that is hard won and generously appreciated.

Adrian’s mother is not as sympathetic of a character. She is ill-tempered and mean even at the best of times. It's no secret that she thinks Adrian can do better in his choice of a mate and this is a fact that she brandishes in front of her daughter-in-law's face through her malicious actions and cruel words. Worse still is the unyielding pressure that she puts on her son in relation to the farm. To produce the best apples, dangerous and harmful chemicals are used in the production of the crops. The chemical treatments are non-negotiable in her eyes, and in her relentless pursuit of Adrian’s eventual inheritance of the farm, she manages to drive a wedge between not only herself and her son, but also between Adrian and Theresa. She is never passive and yielding, choosing instead to be domineering and resistive time and time again, not only to Adrian and Theresa’s ideas, but to their familial relationships as well.

After many years, things begin to break down and fall apart, not only on the farm but with personal matters as well. In these hard times, Theresa, Adrian and their children rally round and create an insular little world that no one can invade. But again and again tragedy strikes, culminating in a vicious standoff between Theresa and her mother-in-law. It was a story that broke my heart in not only its intimations but in its repercussions. As basic respect and decency break down, the narrative becomes heartbreaking and deeply personal. Though the book is steeped in sadness and poignancy, there were also spellbinding moments of beauty and intimacy traced within the darker framework of tragedy.

This was an eye-opening read for me, and because of the author’s ability to be particularly candid and transparent, it was an engrossing read that had me reaching for the tissues over and over again. The story manages to encapsulate a span of many years within a small package, but it was a very potent package indeed. Readers of memoirs would do well to search out this amazing story of resilience, inner strength and emotional fortitude. A very worthy read and highly recommended.

26 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Adrian's mother was a piece of work, wasn't she? I loved this book too. It reinforced the way I think about pesticides.

Vasilly said...

This book sounds amazing! I would have thought the mother-in-law would have at least given in a few times. I'm adding this to my tbr list. Great review.

Beth F said...

I had to skip to the end because I want to read this -- it was a much hyped book at BEA last year and tagged as perfect for book clubs.

reviewsbylola said...

I am kind of sick of memoirs at the moment, so I don't think I'll be reading this one but it does sound like it made quite an impact on you!

Kathy said...

Wow, great review. Sounds like one I'd enjoy. I am adding to my already too long TBR!!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I loved this book! But it is definitely a many-kleenex-box read! And how sad that it was true - I wish it were just a novel!

softdrink said...

I don't think there's enough kleenex in the house for me to read this one!

Sandy Nawrot said...

This book definitely was potent! You sorta know what is coming, at least in general, but it doesn't lessen the impact. I loved the way she wrote...very easy and open and down-to-earth. It also makes me very glad that we went organic a long time ago. It is terrifying when you think about what pesticides are doing to our food.

Amy said...

This book looks familiar to me but doesn't sound familiar! It's definitely a book I want to read. Poor Theresa, her MIL sounds awful and the entire situation sounds pleasant. I wish Adrian would stand up to her and tell his mother to back off. This book sounds heart-wrenching and fascinating.
Fantastic review, Heather!

Suko said...

Excellent review! This sounds heart-breaking and definitely worth reading, although I would be upset greatly by certain aspects of this memoir.

Nymeth said...

I'm with Stephanie in not being in the mood for memoirs at the moment, but it was still wonderful to hear about how much the book touched you.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I haven't read a memoir in ages! I feel like I have to dive into that genre to make sure I don't lose touch with it. Might be a good book for me to start with, huh?

nomadreader said...

I don't tend to like memoirs, but I realized as I was reading your review I would be eager to read this story if it were fiction! I'm definitely intrigued!

Ti said...

Some memoirs grab me and this one does. What a life! You've done an excellent job of describing the tone of this one, too. If I pick it up, I'll know right away to grab those tissues.

Jenners said...

I'm a memoir fan and this one sounds so unique and with so many layers that I must read it. Wonderful review.

Buried In Print said...

I really enjoy novels that have farming as part of their stories; for all that we all depend on farmers to eat every day, you just don't see them in the pages of novels often enough. I'll watch out for this one!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Oh no a tear jerker -- but it sounds so good.

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I'll be adding this one to my wish list. It sounds like a book that I would really enjoy. Great review!

Stepping Out of the Page said...

I really enjoy reading memoirs, but I haven't read one for such a long time! I think that I might have to read this one, you have really intrigued me with your powerful review. Thanks for sharing.

New to your blog!
Stephanie @ Stepping Out of the Page

Amy said...

Although I'm not always a fan of memoirs, this sounds like an interesting one. I like the aspect that talks about pesticides too as that would fit with some of the reading I have done in the past on food safety. Thanks!

Jenny said...

I had thought this book was about mainly just the farm which I wasn't too interested in, but it sounds like there's a lot about the family dynamics as well which does sound really interesting to me.

geosi said...

I think this is an important memoir I would like to read.

Athira said...

I've been curious about this one for a while and I am glad to see that you found it as good as I was hoping it to be. I will definitely be adding this to my list.

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

i honestly have not heard of this one! it sounds incredibly intriguing and emotional. i've never been big on memoirs but this one might actually drag me out of my comfort zone. thanks for the suggestion!

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

I thought it was fictionalised memoir until your discussion of it. Sometimes facts are stranger than fiction. Had anyone written this as a novel we might say it's a cliched theme. But it does happen. Just can't understand parents who can't accept that their children matures with time.

Darlene said...

I have long been interested in this book and now I really am. I think this is a story that would really pull me in.

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