Tuesday, December 27, 2011

THE BLUE ORCHARD by Jackson Taylor

Verna Krone, the author's real-life grandmother, narrates this novel, beginning with her departure from school in the eighth grade, so that she can work to help feed her mother and siblings. Raped by her first employer, she aborts his baby with the help of a concoction that renders her comatose for three weeks. Another pregnancy produces a son, Sam, but the father of this child is married to another woman, so that Verna abandons Sam to her mother for upbringing. The two main conflicts in the book center around Verna's difficult relationship with her son and her emotions about her eventual position as a nurse, assisting a black abortionist. The job is lucrative, and Verna's own experiences certainly enable her to empathize with the young women who come to Dr. Crampton for help, but it's the 1950s, and the political climate in Harrisburg, PA, is changing. Dr. Crampton's friends in high places are losing their clout, and the new Catholic district attorney is not so tolerant of Crampton's illegal sideline. Verna is forthright and principled, but she makes some bad decisions where men are concerned and is a little too flagrant in flaunting her ill-gotten wealth. Her rise from poverty and her ultimate refusal to perjure herself make this novel worth reading, but just barely. Verna's clandestine profession precludes her from having a large number of friends, and that's a shame, because she is definitely a person worth knowing. In fact, it would have been far more gratifying to have known her than it was to read about her.

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