In her debut novel, "Family Trees," Kerstin March depicts one of the Upper Midwest's most scenic spots — Bayfield, Wis., and the nearby Apostle Islands. In one of the first pages, she writes: "Bayfield was … a town where white-washed clapboard houses and picket fences were reminiscent of immigrants who made their living fishing, lumbering and quarrying for brownstone. … This was a community that buttoned up in the wintertime, braving barren isolation, ice-road lake crossings and bitter cold temperatures. In reward, they basked in the glorious summer sun amidst lavender lupine, shimmering poplars and fragrant apple trees."
Unfolding against this impressive setting, the narrative features Shelby Meyers, a young woman who works for her grandparents' apple orchard. Her grandparents have raised Shelby because her mother abandoned her baby daughter and fled to California. Though secure in her grandparents' love and support, Shelby is emotionally fragile as a result of the accidental death of her college boyfriend.
Two story lines both hinge on Shelby. One chronicles the ups and downs of her romantic entanglement with a young wealthy Chicago man named Ryan. He is the heir to a media corporation but struggles to pursue his interest in professional photography. The other concerns her adjustment to a major change in her life circumstances — the return of her mother to Bayfield.
March is skillful not only at rendering her setting, but also at raising questions in the reader's mind about Shelby's fate and withholding answers for many chapters.
Katherine Bailey is a book critic in Bloomington.