At once intimate and epic, The Orchardist is historical fiction at its best, in the grand literary tradition of William Faulkner, Marilynne Robinson, Michael Ondaatje, Annie Proulx, and Toni Morrison.
In her stunningly original and haunting debut novel, Amanda Coplin evokes a powerful sense of place, mixing tenderness and violence as she spins an engrossing tale of a solitary orchardist who provides shelter to two runaway teenage girls in the untamed American West, and the dramatic consequences of his actions.
The implacable hand of fate, and the efforts of a quiet, reclusive man to reclaim two young sisters from their harrowing past, are the major forces at play in this immensely affecting first novel. In a verdant valley in the Pacific Northwest during the early years of the 20th century, middle-aged Talmadge tends his orchards of plum, apricot, and apples, content with his solitary life and the seasonal changes of the landscape he loves. Two barely pubescent sisters, Jane and Della, both pregnant by an opium-addicted, violent brothel owner from whom they have escaped, touch Talmadge's otherwise stoic heart, and he shelters and protects them until the arrival of the girls' pursuers precipitates tragic consequences. Talmadge is left with one of the sisters, the baby daughter of the other, and an ardent wish to bring harmony to the lives entrusted to his care. Coplin relates the story with appropriate restraint, given Talmadge's reserved personality, and yet manages to evoke a world where the effects of two dramatic losses play out within a strikingly beautiful natural landscape. In contrast to the brothel owner, Michaelson, the other characters in Talmadge's community an insightful, pragmatic midwife; a sensitive Nez Perce horse trader; a kindly judge conduct their lives with dignity and wisdom. When Della fails to transcend the psychological trauma she's endured, and becomes determined to wreak revenge on Michaelson, Talmadge turns unlikely hero, ready to sacrifice his freedom to save her. But no miracles occur, as Coplin refuses to sentimentalize. Instead, she demonstrates that courage and compassion can transform unremarkable lives and redeem damaged souls. In the end, "three graves side by side," yet this eloquent, moving novel concludes on a note of affirmation.
Customer ReviewsSee All
I was intrigued first by the title, which I thought was orchidist. After reading it again I got it. I’d never heard this word before. I live reading new words and was anxious to begin reading this book. What exactly was a Orchardist?
The reading of this book was work. I mean I couldn’t just glide over the words. I had to think and ponder as I imagined the people, places, the scenery and even feel myself being there. I liked Talmadge and respected him. He had some very interesting people drop into his orchard. He being such a solitary figure seemed to attach himself to many of them. He cared and grew to love them even. Though that wouldn’t be the word he’d use to describe his feelings. Those feelings seemed even foreign to him in a traditional sense. You could never say he was an indulgent man. He had and gave little in the way of physical things. He had no need of things. He worked very hard all his life and to see his dad orchard diminish over time was sad. I’d have liked to hear what happened to Angeline after she sold the orchard. Maybe another novel.
This novel is beautifully written and reminded me of the novels of John Steinbeck.
A deep read, enjoyed and learned.