Based on the life of the author s own grandmother and written after almost three hundred interviews with those involved in the real-life scandal, "The Blue Orchard "is as elegant and moving as it is exact and convincing. It is a dazzling portrayal of the changes America underwent in the first fifty years of the twentieth century. Readers will be swept into a time period that in many ways mirrors our own. Verna Krone s story is ultimately a story of the indomitable nature of the human spirit and a reminder that determination and self-education can defy the deforming pressures that keep women and other disenfranchised groups down."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 30.
- Review Date: 2009-11-30
- Reviewer: Staff
In what could be a modern classic, poet and fiction writer Taylor takes an unblinking look at abortion in America many decades before Roe v. Wade. Introducing Verna Crone as she's arrested in her home in 1954, Taylor then transports readers to her poor Pennsylvania beginnings, yanked out of school as a teenager to help support her family. Raped by her first employer, Verna soon undergoes an abortion, illegally administered by a country midwife. After another pregnancy leaves her with a son, Verna enlists her mom's help and returns to the city to become a nurse; before long, Verna begins working for Dr. Crampton, a well-to-do African-American doctor who performs illegal abortions. Conflicted at first, Verna quickly grows accustomed to the money and finds herself less upset with every procedure; it's only after Crampton runs afoul of some state politicos that the two are arrested. In this powerful, vivid debut novel, Taylor parses issues of race, power, and religion in unflinching terms while believably inhabiting the mind of a conflicted woman. (Jan.)
A grandmother's story
Jackson Taylor weaves an affecting—if at times disturbing—and ultimately hopeful tale while tackling issues of gender, class, family and race in his first novel, The Blue Orchard, based upon the remarkable life of his grandmother, Verna Krone. In 1954, Verna, a white nurse, and Charles Crampton, an African-American physician, were arrested in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for performing scandalous “illegal operations”; in Taylor’s hands, this is the pivotal point from which Verna looks back on her life.
Born into poverty in rural Pennsylvania, Verna, a bright student, is pulled out of school in the 1920s to support the family. Thus begins her journey from home to home and job to job, endlessly searching for some control over her life. During her term as a hired farm girl, her boss takes advantage of her, leaving her pregnant at 14, but under the guidance of a local midwife, her “trouble” is taken care of. Pregnancy, parenting and children’s fates are major themes in The Blue Orchard, as Verna later becomes a mother, leaves her newborn son to be raised by her own unwilling mother, marries a man who has abandoned his children and becomes the vigilant caregiver for thousands of women of all ages, incomes and situations, who surreptitiously stream through her door to recover from abortions performed by Dr. Crampton—an occupation that brings her financial security beyond her wildest dreams but invokes new stresses and fears. Verna is a flawed but strong woman whose self-examination is uncompromising. Her association with Dr. Crampton, a pillar of Harrisburg’s African-American community whose ties to the Harvey Taylor political machine build him up but tragically leave him a broken man, exposes her to dirty politics, deceit, injustice and emergencies that bring out the best and worst in her. Taylor’s unflinching and gracefully written novel brings us face-to-face with ugly national and personal realities, not only helping us to understand our collective history and family dynamics, but also helping to frame the contemporary abortion debate. A moving and important novel, The Blue Orchard is a fine read. Sheri Bodoh writes from Eldridge, Iowa.