Book Review: The Marble Orchard

Erika Hanson
2 min read
The Marble Orchard
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“You can tell a lot about a patch of ground by who’s buried under it. Who was in the wars, when and where they fought. You can tell if there was a tough winter by how many babies and women were buried one year. All of that’s on these stones.” Pete waved through the firelight. “The great marble orchard. That’s what it all is.”

The Marble Orchard
tells the story of 19-year-old Beam Sheetmire, a rural Kentucky lad who murders the son of local crime boss Loat Duncan, setting off a chain of events no one can control. Beam flees, followed closely by Loat, the sheriff and a host of others, each with their own agenda.

With Beam, author Alex Taylor explores the way in which deeply held beliefs and loyalties can shape a man’s choices and doom him to repeat the sins of those closest to him.

Though set in contemporary times, the novel depicts a wild lawlessness reminiscent of the Old West. The unnamed town on the banks of the Gasping River seethes with an undercurrent of malice painted over with a thin veneer of civility. As Beam tries to outrun Loat and the secrets of Beam’s past are revealed, the reader is dragged deeper into a twisted history that Beam is helpless to escape.

It’s clear that author Alex Taylor knows and loves his setting. He makes a small town in Kentucky come alive. I could almost hear the wind whipping in the trees and the river sloshing in its banks. Taylor’s prose is bleak and harsh, the land reflecting the decay in its people: “He could not imagine people coming to this place. There were only those being kept and those that left, either in flight or exile.”

The Marble Orchard is not for the faint of heart. Like the waters of a muddy river, the novel sucks the reader in and doesn’t let go until the last page. Taylor doesn’t shy away from depicting brutality. In keeping with the story’s American Gothic roots, the tale often slides into the macabre. However, for those who like their prose gothic and their protagonists morally complex, The Marble Orchard may be just the ticket.
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