Jane Hamilton's Apple Farmers Are Not Always 'Excellent Lombards'

By Silva, Holly | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 9, 2017 | Go to article overview

Jane Hamilton's Apple Farmers Are Not Always 'Excellent Lombards'


Silva, Holly, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Out in paperback just before Jane Hamilton's visit to St. Louis, "The Excellent Lombards" is a melancholy coming-of-age story set in 1990s Wisconsin. It's narrated by a scrappy 12-year-old girl attuned to the familial rancor of her otherwise idyllic rural childhood.

That the heroine and narrator answers to Mary Frances, Frankie, MF and Francie is an indication of her divided allegiances growing up on a 1990s Wisconsin apple orchard, "a compound with three houses, three barns, four hundred acres of forest and arable fields and marsh, the sheep pastures, and apple trees." The young Frankie is among "the fourth generation born unto the operation, [heirs to a historical property and a noble business]."

Hamilton herself is married to a Wisconsin apple farmer, and her descriptions of Frankie's idyllic rural childhood are convincing: making cider by pressing apple pulp through "ten thickly woven cloths held in place by wooden forms" (stacked on a stainless steel tray); children serving as "underaged veterinarians" attending a prolapse during lambing; and baling hay just ahead of a thunderstorm. Even city slickers will recognize Hamilton's accuracy: dark-blue denim coveralls "bleached by the sun to a pinkish white."

But there's tension among the adults who call Frankie by all those different names. It's up for debate as to who's in charge, Frankie's father or his cousin Sherwood. "Even though the Lombard partners had the same argument over and over again their skills hadn't improved much and so far there hadn't been a real breakthrough." A series of ragtag relations drop in to test their stake in the family business. …

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