Friday, April 15, 2011

The Blue Orchard by Jackson Taylor

The Blue Orchard: A NovelThe Blue Orchard: A Novel by Jackson Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Blue Orchard was a choice by my bookclub. It lead to one of the most interesting discussions we've had with the group. The book is set in Harrisburg, Pa, which is a place a few of our members are familiar with. It deals with race relations and abortion, topics about which people tend to have strong and emotional opinions.

The book spans most of the life of Verna Krone who is the grandmother of the author. Her stories have been documented by Jackson Taylor in his book, which he calls a novel but is probably best described as a cross between a novel and a memoir. Verna was young during the depression and, when she was fourteen, had to give up school to help support her family. Her father was much older than her mother and died very early in the book.

There is a distance that I feel in Taylor's writing, particularly in the way he handles dialogue. But the stories he tells are so fascinating that I still got caught up in them.

Despite the poverty of Verna's background, she managed to get an education and had a career in nursing. She worked in a few positions before ending up with the job where she spent most of her years. She worked for a prominent, African-American doctor named Dr. Crampton whose practice included sports medicine with a local high school and abortions.

Dr. Crampton was wealthy and politically connected. He delivered votes to Harvey Taylor and to the Republican machine that dominated Pennsylvania politics at that time. In exchange for those favors he was able to improve the lives of the African-American residents of Harrisburg by bringing money into their community for projects such as sports teams and a local Y. Sometimes when we look back on race relations from the thirties and forties we forget how complicated the situations were. Dr. Crampton couldn't eat in the same places as the whites, but in many ways he was more powerful than most of the people of all races.

Taylor's characters are intricate and interesting. For example, Verna seems to oppose abortions until the money becomes too difficult to resist. After that she rationalizes what she's doing by telling herself she's keeping the women away from the "butchers." Taylor doesn't seem to take a position on abortion. He tells the story and lets the readers draw their own conclusions.

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