(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In Orchard, Larry Watson explores the volatile forces at work among four disparate people in the northern reaches of Wisconsin. Henry and Sonja House are a couple with a history in this place; it is Henry’s family who has owned the apple orchards that give the novel its title and which has established Henry as a presence in the community. Sonja, Henry’s wife, is a Swedish immigrant still looking to make a place for herself in this community and in her marriage. Ned Weaver is a very successful artist who has escaped the East Coast art world and brought his fame, his work, and his weaknesses to this rural upstate community. And Harriet Weaver is the woman who has long suffered as Ned’s wife, who has put up with his infidelities, and who has served as his muse.

In Sonja, Ned discovers a model with unique and extraordinary qualities, and when she begins modeling for Weaver, Sonja discovers a man who (unlike her husband) looks attentively and seriously at her as a woman and as a woman-with-a-body. Ned sees in Sonja a woman who is fearful of disappearing, who is diminishing in the gray light of a marriage marred by the death of a young son. Ned’s portraits of Sonja—many of them nudes—provide them both with a renewed sense of self, though Ned’s interests are clearly more selfish than are Sonja’s.

What both people seem to forget is just where they are. Word spreads of Sonja’s nude sessions with “the artist,” Henry...

(The entire section is 406 words.)