by D. Bruce Edwards
Reviewed by K.T. Mitchell
An idyllic scene, complete with typecast characters, is crucial when setting the tone for a romantic tale. Edwards easily meets that requirement then tops it with an affection toward his characters that is apparent through the tremendous amount of detail he shares about the Daniellesons’ day-to-day lives. Edwards paints his novel with broad strokes of sentiment. The reader gets the first hint of this meticulous style in the author’s note: there, Edwards describes the school Jocelyn might have gone to and gives her full first name, Jocelyn Anne. Never mind that Jocelyn is never called by her full name in the book.
From there we learn Jo is an only child with doting parents who resides on an old apple orchard. Jo faces her faces her days with excitement and the occasional nude frolic in the morning dew. Both parents do much to appease Jo, from her father’s playful wrestling to her mother brushing her hair. The reader is constantly reminded how much Jo loathes bras, how beautiful her auburn hair is and how great natural her artistic talents are.
These details allow Edwards to take extraordinary leisure in unraveling plot. At the point where most novels would be half over, Apple Girl gets started. Jo doesn’t even meet her man until page one hundred thirty-five. The pacing is great for a quiet, cross-country, two-week vacation by train where one looks out the window to make time fly. On the flip side of the coin, the plodding progression of action could prove dulling for the average working person hoping to get some thrills before retiring to bed.
The pacing could cause a reader to lose interest in Apple Girl. Friction equals fiction, whether it is friction between two characters’ dramatically different personalities or the friction between a character and the complicated happenstances in their lives. Although there are difficult events in Jo’s life, there is no centralized conflict to hold the reader’s attention until the end of the story. Complicated things happen but they are resolved too easily. Jo wants to pursue art instead of a degree in English. At first her parents are worried but they quickly give in to her wishes, clamoring to turn an old shed into a studio, just in time for Jo’s birthday. Jo’s friend Julie develops a crush on Jo but Jo’s mother nips it in the bud before it gets complicated.
Yet sticky complications are what makes coming of age stories great. Suspension of disbelief in order to accept the author’s reality proves difficult if the story rests on a perfect daydream. There has to be some sort of concrete connections to life’s realities to make a story work. Jo describes herself as a “very, very lucky girl. Her boyfriend, Nigel, sees Jo as a “lovely, lovely girl as well as… a beautiful person.” Repeating those sentiments through various characters during different stages of the book is not enough to convince a reader that Jo is great. She has no character flaws. Jo always says or does the right thing at the right time then everyone praises her. It makes one wonder, can there really be a teenage girl who is completely obedient to her parents? Do households where parents never argue exist? What mother teaches her seventeen-year old daughter about the birds and the bees by showering with her?
This “perfection” detracts from the novel in two ways. First, Jo’s character is static. There is no force pushing against Jo’s character so she never changes. Second, it is hard for the reader to empathize with Jo and her family because they are always happy. This disconnect with the audience makes Edwards miss the opportunity to make an indelible mark on the genre.
K. T. MITCHELL is currently writing a novel transgressive fiction while enjoying the pastoral scenery of the San Joaquin Valley. To read her work in other genres, please go to www.ktmitchell.com.
Since the explosion of women’s liberation, the female-centered bildungsroman has become a staple of modern literature. In the tradition of Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, these tales are typically written by women for younger women as I’ve-been-there-you’re-not-alone roadmaps for the long journey into womanhood. Apple Girl is a rare specimen in the genre. Written by a man who is well past middle age, the novel is presumably for a general audience. Moreover, Edwards turns the conventions of the genre on its ear by romanticizing his main character’s development instead of dwelling on adolescence’s inherent emotional turmoil.