An Apricot Year is award-winning author Martha Egan’s fifth book and third novel. A gallery owner and expert in Latin American folk art and antiques, and a fan of the Green Bay Packers, Egan uses her knowledge of setting and art to form her characters’ vivid experiences.
This story opens as Luli Russell is enjoying a blissful day of painting in historic Santa Fe (where Egan lives). As a special 50th birthday present, Luli’s family has given her watercolors, lessons and a place to stay in Santa Fe to help her fulfill her longtime dream to be a real painter. Luli is a Wisconsin housewife who has sacrificed much and has spent years providing for her husband, Herb, and her four children.
Her idyllic trip is interrupted by a frantic phone call from her youngest daughter, who claims that Herb is having an affair and that she must return immediately. Thus begins a personal journey that will require Luli to step out of her comfort zone and completely change her life.
Still reeling from the shock of her daughter’s revelations, Luli encounters an old man bleeding and possibly dying in front of her. A nearby yard worker, Adán Alire, who was a medic in Vietnam, helps Luli take the old man to the hospital. After two upsetting experiences, Luli needs some tender care, and Adán decides to take her home to his wife, Rosealba, who calms her down under a magnificent apricot tree in the yard of their quaint adobe home.
When Luli returns to Wisconsin, she discovers that her trust in Herb was badly misplaced and she and her children must go on without the emotional and financial support of a stable husband and father. Because three of the children are in college, this is an unexpected and substantial blow. Once Luli settles her affairs as best she can, she returns to Santa Fe to restart her life, with little experience and virtually no résumé to show for the last 20-plus years of her life. She is almost penniless and unable to speak Spanish, which hampers her search for a decent job in her new hometown.
Luli manages to find a job with an eccentric Chilean, the artist/owner of a combination gallery and fix-it shop. Then her new friends Adán and Rosealba find her a house-sitting job in the adobe house next door to them. The Alires take into their home Flip, who is the alcoholic, homeless man Luli and Adán had rescued earlier. When Flip relapses and his health fades, he implores Luli to do him a favor, one that takes her to the fictional Caribbean island of Sainte Foi just in time to experience her first hurricane.
The adventures of Luli are reminiscent of a woman from the mid-20th century similar to the character in the film “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” Her journey of self-discovery is aided by Adán and Rosealba and their welcoming relatives, a model of a traditional, Hispanic New Mexican family.
The real treasure to be found in this novel is Santa Fe itself. Egan’s research is well-done and her homage to the city is reflected in her nostalgic portrait of place and people. Egan’s detailed descriptions bring alive the architecture, the ambience and the colorful personality of Santa Fe. An Apricot Year provides readers with a romantic story of mid-life adventure thrust on a woman by her cad of a husband, and she makes a new, more fulfilling life for herself.