St. Paul author Theresa Weir writes best selling genre fiction, but here she tells the bittersweet story of her blighted youth and of her marriage to Adrian Curtis, a handsome fifth-generation apple farmer. In this frank and disturbing work, Weir reveals painful truths about her early years as well as about the weight of the Curtis family tradition, in which her husband, as eldest son, is treated as a hired hand until he assumes ownership of the farm upon the death of his father.

Weir opens with a prologue, "The Legend of Lily," the story of a pesticide salesman and his daughter. Lily wants to help her dad make enough money to take the family to Disneyland. She does as he asks, sipping from the cup of fetid chemicals he hands her to demonstrate to the onlooking farmers that her father's product is safe.

This legend permeates Weir's memoir, and two-thirds of the way through, she writes of her family, "We were all Lily," surrounded by the garlicky odor of the pesticides that will exact a staggering toll.

This is a riveting memoir about an unlikely marriage between a city girl and a farmer, two people scarred by their troubled mothers. Hers is an alcoholic bohemian, dependent on men, wishing to divest herself of the impediment of her children; his, a single-minded tyrant who rules the family she married into with singular cruelty. The attraction between the urban nomad and the rooted agrarian is mutual, despite their differences: He's the scion of prosperity and tradition; she's the throwaway vagabond of feckless parents. Their unconventional courtship, marriage and the family they create take place within the larger drama of a family curse and the price heartland farmers pay for creating perfect apples.

Weir charts the course of her 18-year marriage, as she gradually comes to understand her taciturn husband's love for her and their children. She shares his delight in the perfect color, shape and texture of his new variety of apples. She agonizes with him at the threat the codling moth poses to his crop. When he takes small steps toward organic practices, she exults, and when he forbids their son to take part in spraying the apples with the ever-stronger pesticides that hang like a pall over their fields, she realizes the extent of his rebellion against Curtis family tradition.

But her constant sense of life's fragility and the family curse ultimately make their claim. The denouement comes swiftly, and in the bittersweet aftermath, Weir and her children wrest a new life, one that turns their experiences on the farm into music and art.

Kathryn Lang is former senior editor at Southern Methodist University Press.