I read the galleys of my friend Christina Meldrum’s stunning debut novel, Madapple, over a single, rainy afternoon a few months ago. I refused to get up off the couch, despite the requests of my husband and sons, until I’d finished the last page. What a book! I truly couldn’t put it down. Christina has written a gripping page-turner that explores the dichotomy between religion and science. Reading it, I felt as if I’d entered into a dream state where nothing was quite what it seemed.
Christina began her book nearly a decade ago, while she was still working as a litigator at a San Francisco law firm. She would rise at five a.m. daily and write in the darkness of dawn for about an hour, her computer providing the only light, before heading to her San Francisco office. She had majored in religion as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, and then went on to Harvard Law School. Although she had the drive and intelligence to be recruited as an associate by one of the top law firms in the world, Christina didn’t find what she was looking for in the practice of that profession.
Instead, she found it by becoming a novelist. Christina’s sixteen-year-old protagonist, Aslaug, is a character that has stayed with me months after reading Madapple. Finely drawn and deeply felt, Aslaug’s character is a puzzle, as is her apparently immaculate conception. Set in rural Maine, the book shifts between courtroom scenes and the strange life that has led Aslaug to stand trial. As a gardener, I particularly enjoyed the book’s focus on the hidden power of plants. To learn more, visit Christina’s website, www.christinameldrum.com, which has the botanical name and descriptions of many of the plants that appear in her book.
Madapple’s publication date is May 13, but already it has garnered a lot of attention and glowing reviews. Kirkus gave it a starred review on May 1st, calling it “A markedly intelligent offering mixing lush descriptions of plants, history, science and religion…With this spellbinding debut, Meldrum marks herself as an author to watch.” Booklist also gave it a starred review: “There is much to ponder in this enthralling achievement from a debut author.”
The Marin Independent Journal ran a long story on Christina today, including a photo of her in her lush backyard – “a tangle of azaleas, rhododendrons, ivy and ferns, towering redwoods, tulips and camellias” – as writer Leslie Harlib described it. The front page of the paper describes Madapple as an “intellectual amusement park ride.” This is the first of two books that Christina will write for the storied New York publisher Alfred A. Knopf. Judging by her first book, her second is sure to be keenly awaited.
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