A Wisconsin girl reluctantly comes of age in Hamilton’s tender and rueful latest (Laura Rider's Masterpiece, 2009, etc.).
A suspenseful opening chapter, with the Lombards racing to get their freshly baled hay into the barn before the clouds overhead let loose the rain that would ruin it, deftly sets the scene for the fraught family drama that follows. Narrator Mary Frances—alternately known as Francie, Frankie, Marlene, or MF depending on who’s addressing her and what stage of her tumultuous development she's at—has total confidence in her father’s ability to grapple antiquated farm equipment and “outwit a storm.” Her adored older brother, William, has less faith and more awareness of the harsh realities facing their Wisconsin apple orchard at the turn of the 21st century. Their father Jim’s health has been battered by years of manual labor; his cousin and co-owner, Sherwood, is dreamy and impractical. Sherwood’s wife, Dolly, incessantly reminds their children of the better life that awaits them with a college degree. Jim’s wife, Nellie, a sharp-tongued librarian who's seen her modest inheritance swallowed up by the orchard, does her best to point William and Francie in the same direction, only to outrage the daughter who desperately insists that she's going to stay put and make sure the orchard goes on just as it has for four generations. The story unfolds as a series of snapshots, discontinuous and tumbled together in an order that follows the emotional logic of memories. A geography bee that Francie deliberately loses, a snooping expedition that results in her getting locked in the room of an eccentric older relative, and the wrenching loss of a beloved hired hand who is more like a second mother are among the incidents that chronicle Francie’s bumpy progress toward maturity, which she resists almost as fiercely as the knowledge that the way of life embodied in her beloved orchard is slowly vanishing.
Richly characterized, beautifully written, and heartbreakingly poignant—another winner from this talented and popular author.