Thoughts on… Luanne Rice’s The Lemon Orchard
No, I did not confuse her with Anne Rice; I was interested by the blurb description of the story. The novel is a pleasant change of pace from what I would normally choose to read, and at least it does not fall into bodice ripper category.
I admit that I am not the target audience; Luanne Rice’s The Lemon Orchard is probably more romance than not, although it does have a nice bit of dramatic and character development along with a timely topic. The story is about the meeting of two souls. Roberto is an undocumented worker from Mexico; Julia is an anthropologist from Connecticut. They are joined by their both having lost a daughter and are dealing with their grief and need for closure in their own ways. A portion of the novel is spent in flashbacks, and I find these fairly interesting. Being male, and a father of two boys, I enjoy seeing how self-aware, intelligent women interact with one another; in this case, I enjoyed how a mother views her relationship with her daughter.
There is much to like about the novel; it deals with a the serious issue of immigration, and the language is enjoyable – not flowery but evocative. One of the blurbs that convinced me to give my thoughts on this book is that the novel combines Ms. Rice own interests and research into the Irish immigrant experience with a modern extension of those same themes. Some readers might find it pat to simply draw analogies between two groups of people, just because they happen to share a desire to move to the United States. But I can attest to the fact that some motivations are shared and there are common motifs among the stories of immigrants.
Ms. Rice leaves no doubts as to her sympathies. One can see from the ending that she respects fully the laws that are on the books, but she does decry against the harshness with which some Americans treat illegal border crossers. In the end, Ms. Rice points to the fact that immigrants are willing to face death and depredation in order have a chance for a better life and that earns them a measure of respect and sympathy.
Again, the novel is well written, but the structure generally lacks heightened dramatic tension. There are obstacles that Julia must overcome, but it seems like a hike and not a climb up a hill, let alone a mountain. The beginning is masterful; from the first sentence, we are telegraphed that Julia’s daughter is dead. But it is this straight-forward exposition that telegraphs the rest of the novel. While I was astounded at how effectively Ms. Rice conveyed mood and information, there are no surprises to the plot. The progression of the relationship between Roberto and Julia encounters only few bumps. We get a few longing glances, vivid daydreams, and descriptions of Roberto’s work-honed body. The novel plays out like a Lifetime movie. One can guess at the resolution of the plot lines as they get introduced.
We rarely see any conflict; some characters speak of it, but it’s all in the past. A simple, meaningful look seems to resolve any current impasse and unlock doors. But that contributes more to the movie like/script feel to the novel. There is a pace and sense of time to the novel that is realistic. Ms. Rice does give the characters time to breathe and digest events, even if they always seem to do the right thing in the end. There is a lot of color and details that flesh out the exterior life of her characters. The main effect of all this is that everyone just happens to be so nice and understanding. But my finding issue with that might say more about me than about Ms. Rice’s novel.
I enjoyed the book until the ending, which irritated me tremendously. I felt as if the author wrote a book that focused on challenging stereotypes, then decided to end on a giant one. There was a lot of potential, but it fell flat.