Written by Jackson Taylor
Review by Paula Day
Jackson Taylor’s The Blue Orchard is a fine achievement for an historical novel. Dense with well-researched detail, spanning fifty years of American history, the novel is based on the life of Taylor’s own grandmother. Verna Crone’s story begins in the 1920s, just before the Depression. Her family lives in poverty, and she is pulled from school at a young age to work to earn money. She is raped by one employer, and she has an abortion, which was illegal then. Determined and tenacious, she has a series of jobs, and she becomes involved with a series of men, one of whom is not what he seems to be. She teaches herself to read, and after her son is born she goes to school to become a nurse. Verna begins working for Dr. Crampton, an African-American doctor who performs illegal abortions. Verna and the doctor are both arrested for their participation in the illegal “surgeries” and a public uproar ensues.
This novel is the result of ten years worth of research and interviews on the part of the author, and it is time well spent. I enjoyed the ride from Depression-era America to the time of the Civil Rights movement. We learn about the reality of abortions during that time, pre Roe v. Wade, as well as the racism and politics that ruled then. Reading this book, I learned about Harvey Taylor’s Republican machine. I also appreciated that it was Verna’s determination to be educated that helped her along her journey. I was struck by the simple intensity in the language, and Taylor has the poetic flow that I love to read. This was the rare novel that I fell into as soon as I began reading it. Even with work, school, editing duties, and writing my own novel, I still finished the book in two days. The Blue Orchard is highly recommended.
Paula Day is the Review Editor for The Copperfield Review. She lives in Los Angeles, California.