Explore Vermont in the Pages of Susan Wiggs' New Novel
Setting: Switchback, Vermont
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow
Susan Wiggs is a favorite author of mine. She writers with emotion. I'm pulled into her stories and settings and find myself at home. Given that, Family Tree: A Novel caught my attention as it is set in Vermont. No matter how impartial I try to be, I have to admit that I tend to be more critical of books set in my home state. I know the ins and outs of life here. I know the people. Therefore, I also know how we act, think, and talk. All of that is in my head when I read books set in my state. This review is going to point out exactly what caught my attention. No fears, it's in a very good way!
Annie Harlow seems to have it all. Her culinary-themed television show is a huge success. Her husband, a culinary wizard, is the star of said show. They have a gorgeous Los Angeles home. Best yet, Annie learns she is pregnant. Fate steps in and Annie wakes up from a coma one year later. Nothing of her past life is the same, and now she must start over on her family's maple farm in Vermont.
Back in Vermont, her therapist tells her after a year-long coma, the best thing she can do is start from scratch and become a new Annie. As she reacquaints herself with her family, her friends, and her former love, Annie faces her past and her present to decide exactly who she wants to be in the future.
Here comes my opinion. First, I've liked other Susan Wiggs' novels better, but I still pushed everything aside to indulge in Family Tree in one sitting. I think my biggest issue is that the truth each character needed to see was so blindingly apparent that I often wondered how they could be so ignorant and not see what was right in front of them. That said, it's the only thing I disliked. The book itself really hit me, as it does tour an awful lot of the area I've grown up in. Hearing Milton mentioned more than once was cool, as I live half a mile from Milton's town line.
Now for the tour of Vermont. Switchback is a fictional town. You will not find Switchback on the map. That said, I do recommend visiting Switchback Brewing in Burlington. It's an excellent beer that's been one of the breweries to kick off Vermont's growing beer industry. Connector IPA is a must-try, but don't overlook the flagship beer Switchback Ale. I don't know if that's why Wiggs named her town Switchback, but I like to think that's where it came from.
I couldn't decide exactly what town Switchback was modeled after, but my guess is Jeffersonville. The two towns share a lot of similarities. If you ever come to the state, I would like to recommend two places. First, 158 Main does awesome breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Second, there's usually a crowd, so expect a wait. I also love Brewster River Pub & Brewery, but you will have to head up the mountain towards Smugglers' Notch if you want to visit this brewery.
There is a distillery mentioned within Family Tree that kept catching my attention. I swear the author must have visited Smugglers' Notch Distillery at some point. Even if you don't do a tasting here (and I do highly recommend the tasting), do not leave without buying a bottle of the bourbon-barrel-aged maple syrup.
As for Annie's family's maple farm, there are so many that it's hard to pick just one. Personally, I buy my syrup from a local mechanic who charges just $30 a gallon, so you can't find a better deal. I'm very picky and hate anything other than grade B. The grading system changed a couple years ago, so that's not what it's really called anymore, but old habits die hard.
Two other points. First, there is talk in the book about marijuana being legalized soon. That didn't happen. Those in office voted against it, even though thousands of Vermonters wanted them to vote in favor of the legalization. Second, there is mention of a Burlington, Vermont, restaurant housed in an old ice house. Icehouse Restaurant closed this spring after four decades. Many of us were sad to see it go.