Theresa Weir, better known as prolific suspense writer Anne Frasier, admits she received a lukewarm reception when she approached her publishing contacts about her latest book idea. “They wanted thrillers, Anne Frasier books,” she explains in the acknowledgements. Instead, Weir offers readers a heartfelt story about her own life. In fact, though the book is categorized as a memoir, the recognizably gothic feel of the descriptions and the suspense-filled plot, as well as the extensive disclaimer in the opening pages, make it clear this finely wrought story portrays a particular, and partly fictionalized, perspective.
Spanning Weir’s early 20s through her late 30s, The Orchard relates the story of her unlikely and impulsive marriage to lifelong apple farmer Adrian Curtis. From the beginning, the marriage was incomprehensible to those closest to the couple. Tall, blond and handsome, Adrian came from one of the best farms in their rural Midwestern community, though it was also rumored to be cursed. Diminutive, dark and Audrey Hepburn-ish, Weir’s bohemian demeanor belied a dark personal history. Despite the odds stacked against them, the two fell deeply in love as the years passed. And here readers get to what is perhaps the real conflict in this memoir: Weir versus the farm.
The farm comes to represent a series of compelling contradictions. The landscape looks beautiful and bucolic—the very picture of American nostalgia. But in reality many locals get cancer (including Weir’s uncle and father-in-law), probably as a result of the rampant use of illegal pesticides. The smell of the pesticides perfumes the air, but no one talks about it. The apples are impossibly, eerily perfect. The people here, too, seem to be inclusive and wholesome. But actually, Weir discovers, they are clannish and distant. Weir is forever looking in the windows, never quite part of Adrian’s family, even after 18 years of marriage.
In such unforgiving soil, Weir’s growth over the years is remarkable. She raises two children, nurtures her marriage and comes into her own as a writer. Her journey, at times lonely and sad, is ultimately triumphant. Readers will be glad Weir found a home for this brave book that examines a community complicit in their own undoing, unwilling to accept that a bright, red apple may have a rotted core.