I could read "The Orchard" ($24, Grand Central Publishing) by Theresa Weir over and over again. What makes this memoir so powerful and compelling is that it tells the story of Theresa's life driven by her unbounded courage and strength to do her best with what little she has been given. Her mother leaves the bedroom door open as boyfriends slip through her life, eventually hating the sight of Theresa because she is a reminder of the husband who abandoned them. Theresa writes that "sometimes there are people you must forget because of the damage they cause — blood ties or not" and that "If my brothers and I had been dogs, she would have dumped us on a back road in the hopes that we would never find our way home." Teenage life at her uncle's bar revolves around moss in the toilet, pickled eggs, microwaved Stewart sandwiches and selling porn to customers in brown boxes with a beer at 8 in the morning.
Theresa can't resist the golden-haired Adrian Curtis, scion of a generational apple farm, although people warn her to stay away as the farm is cursed. Following long-standing tradition, pesticides are used heavily, resulting in tragic consequences. "This is how we live. This is how we do things. It's how we've always done things," Weir writes. Weir uses words to describe the ties to the farm so beautifully you want to read them repeatedly and savor them on your tongue. You can almost taste the garlicky smell of the pesticide wafting through the windows in the stillness of night: "Even the chemicals that saturated everything became in some strange way a part of the poetry, the man-made extrusion of death of nature."
Weir begins her memoir with the story of Lily, a young girl who drinks a glass of pesticide for her salesman father who is trying to convince the farmers that it is safe. Pesticides abound in "The Orchard," protecting the apples from coddling moths and fungus and rust. No one wants to talk about the dangers of the spray and how "The chemicals were all around us. In the cloths and sheets and towels I removed from the line. In the air we breathe and the water we drank. We were all Lily."
The ending brought tears to my eyes and a realization that people can continue to find strength to survive under so many different dire circumstances. Weir manages to tell us her story in candid exquisite prose, so sublime that it reads like a love story about a marriage, love of nature and how we struggle to put adversity behind us even while continuously running into it. Weir describes life on the family farm in the Midwest with such clarity that you know such a life runs in her veins. "The Orchard" is a perfect read, a life story so well written and told that you will succumb to its brilliance and beauty.
"The Dovekeepers" ($27.99, Scribner) by Alice Hoffman is a breathtaking read. Hoffman writes so eloquently about an ancient time that she unknowingly encourages her readers to read the Bible to learn more about this epoch of history. What interested me the most was how women were the core strength of this novel. Their abilities to heal the sick, relieve the grief of others, free the lion from his chains are unsurpassed. Not that the men are weak; as they are not. Walls get built in days, bridges span across the abyss in what seems like minutes, all toward supressing the enemy, or those the Romans perceive as enemies. It is not a physical strength that saves the people from a brutal massacre but their patient intelligence.
"The Night Strangers" ($25, Crown) by Chris Bohjalian is a true work of magic and horror set against what looks like a normal family healing in a safe and comfortable New England town. Bohjalian draws us in, once more. Thirty-nine people are killed when Chip Linton makes a crash landing in Lake Champlain due to engine failure, and there are 39 bolts in sealed door in the basement of the old house they retreat to in small-town New Hampshire. Significant, yes. Things start getting creepy when mysterious disappearances occur, neighbors start acting strangely and no one seems to age. Some let the truth dribble out with frightening consequences and the Lintons begin to fear for their twin girls and themselves. A real page turner!
Annie Philbrick is the co-owner of Bank Square Books in Mystic.