Watson, Larry. Orchard. Random House, 2003.

Reason read: Wisconsin became a state in May.

Don’t be fooled by the simple plot. This is more than a story about a husband and wife. This is a historical piece. [The reader will drop in on 1947 and 1954 and learn about emerging technologies, and my favorite – how to be unladylike (chew gum, smoke, drink alone, swear or sweat).] It is a cultural commentary on what it means to be a foreigner in a strange land, language barriers and all. This is a heartbreaking romance. It is what happens when grief complicates a marriage, misunderstanding about propriety tangles it, and opportunity finally destroys it. The grief of losing a child to an avoidable accident serves as the catalyst for a downward spiral for all involved. Orchard begs the question who is the bigger betrayer, the one who builds an emotional obsession or the one whose carnal desires explode in a single act? Is emotion infidelity more of a sin than a physical one? Larry Watson is becoming one of my favorite authors.
I have read a few reviews that mention this scene, for better of for worse. I myself held my breath when Sonja went to the barn to shoot the family horse. the scene was only seconds long but I seemed to be suspended in dread forever.

Favorite lines (and there were quite a few), “You wanted stillness, but not the repose of a cadaver” (p 5), “Desperation did not enter one room of a family’s house and stayed out of others” (p 18), “Thus do our own fantasies cripple us” (p 39).

As an aside, I am sorry I read a review which mentioned Andrew Wyeth’s Helga paintings and the similarities to Watson’s Orchard. Now I cannot reconcile Sonja’s face as her own now that I see Helga in my mind’s eye.

Author fact: I am also reading Montana 1948 by Larry Watson.

Book trivia: This should be a movie.

Playlist: Nat King Cole’s “Pretend”, Eddie Fisher, “O Mein Papa”, and, “Joy to the World”.

Nancy said: Orchard is not given any special treatment by Pearl.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (p 21).

Caddie Woodlawn

Brink, Carol Ryrie. Caddie Woodlawn. New York: Scholastic, Inc. 1973.

Thanks to Phish and a midnight show I was able to read this in one night (my other November books hadn’t arrived yet). While Kisa listened to a live show from California I was nose-in-book for a few hours. This was cute and completely reminded me of the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Caddie Woodlawn is the quasi-true story about Caroline “Caddie” Woodlawn. I say quasi because Brink got her stories from her grandmother and she changed some of the details for the sake of the plot. Caddie is Brink’s grandmother (with a slight name change). As an impetuous, spunky tomboy, Caddie would rather run wild with her two oldest brothers rather than stay home and cook and sew with her more demure sisters. The whole book is about Caddie’s struggle to balance wanting to be a good girl while being a natural wild child.
The year is 1864 and the Civil War is raging to an end in the East while a different prejudice is infiltrating the midwest. The conflict between Native American Indians and the white man who invaded their territory is being fueled by ignorance, rumors and fear. Caddie is eleven years old and coming of age at a time when the country is doing the same thing.

Favorite line, “She whipped out her ruler, and laid it sharply across that section of Obediah’s person on which he was accustomed to sit” (p 68).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the introduction (p x).

Off Keck Road

Simpson, Mona. Off Keck Road. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

I didn’t realize this book is a novella. 167 pages long. A piece of cake to read on a quiet Sunday. The sad thing is I didn’t really get into it, despite it being a quick read. The story starts off being about Bea Maxwell but then veers away to take in other members on and off Keck Road. The character placement seems jumbled. New characters appear without clear introduction or connection to Bea. I felt I needed a chart to keep characters straight. However, character development was brilliant, intimate even. When we first meet Bea, she is a college girl, home on vacation in the 1950s. She has certain definable traits that stay with her throughout the rest of the novella, ending in the 1980s. It’s a portrait of a woman who never leaves her small town. Her life never really takes her beyond Green Bay, Wisconsin’s city limits without reeling her back in.

Favorite lines, “He was the kind of man who ceded his place in traffic. He never asserted himself in conflicts over lanes or parking spaces” (p 80).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter, “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Wisconsin).
Also in the chapter, “Two, or Three, Are Better Than One” (p 226). Note: in this chapter Pearl suggests reading Off Keck Road together with Our Kind: a Novel in Stories by Kate Walbert; two stories about the lives of women.