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The Family Orchard

Nomi Eve


The Family Orchard

Author:Nomi Eve
Publisher:Knopf
Pages:352
Genre:Debut Fiction

By Karen Nitkin | Posted 10/25/2000

About midway through The Family Orchard, Nomi Eve's innovative and lyrical debut novel, an orchard owner speaks to his sons about grafting new limbs onto existing trees.

Shimon had taught his sons, "When we graft we create something unnatural." He spoke to them as he worked, asking the boys to hand him his tools, telling them, "But the unnatural thing becomes in its mature expression something that seems to have been given nature's approval. People are supposed to graft."

The author may be using that passage to convince herself that she has been "given nature's approval" to fictionalize her own family tree. Eve isn't so much adding new limbs as distorting existing ones; using the detailed journals of her father as inspiration, Eve spins off fanciful reveries about ancestors who lived hundreds of years ago.

Eve explained the process in a recent interview: "One day, when I was struggling to write my story, I opened up one of my father's journals and started to copy out of it. This novel is a duet which I would never have been able to accomplish without him." Structurally, the writing alternates between sections headed "My father writes," "I write," or "I tell," and a third-person narrative. The sections under the "My father writes" heading appear to have actually been written by him, lifted directly from his journals.

Despite the historic nature of the story, Eve doesn't exactly flatter her ancestors when she imagines them cheating on their spouses and stealing from local merchants. The characters created by Eve may be religious, but they are far from moral.

The novel gets off to a promising start, with the story of Esther and Yochanan. Mere months after they are married, Esther begins an affair with a baker. Yochanan learns of the affair, but somehow it doesn't dim the love shared by husband and wife.

All too soon, Eve is resorting to cheap tricks, attempting to disguise the story's blandness with a healthy sprinkling of sex.

Sometimes, for no apparent reason, the novel strays into magical realism. One of the characters, Miriam, can sew stories right into the clothes she creates. "Whoever wore those garments took on the mood and moment of the specific tale." Eve may actually feel this way as she creates her own characters out of bits of handed-down stories, but it does nothing to advance the plot. That may be because there isn't much of one. Eve presents characters, tells their stories, and moves on to their children. And the reader is left wondering what the point is.

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