The novel centers on two families living in Boston in the 1970s: an older couple, Tiresa and Paulo Romano, and the newlyweds Olive and Ron Fifer. The fragile state of the older woman’s health and the younger woman’s marriage brings these two couples together in their separate and quietly desperate isolation, producing a combination of insight and compassion that only the finest story can evoke. In The Orange Tree, Walker explores the relationships between men and women and offers an absorbing commentary on literature, writing, education, middle-class life, and the nature of friendship and of death.
"Known in the mid-20th century for her American chronicles (Winter Wheat; Fireweed), Walker (1905-1998) was unable to publish this 1970s tale of two couples’ unlikely friendship during her lifetime. Newlyweds Olive and Ron Fifer live in a Boston apartment adjacent to Tiresa and Paulo Romano, an English professor and eye doctor who are a generation older. . . . As the couples come to know each other, their lives and marriages change irrevocably. In a manner reminiscent of Paula Fox (particularly in the dialogue), Walker delineates her characters with surety, unspooling Olive and Tiresa’s insights on sex, class, gender roles, age and each other."—Publishers Weekly