Saturday, July 7, 2012

Review: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

For whatever reason, I don’t tend to read many western set novels. I’ve only ever been to the west coast twice in my life so I am mostly unfamiliar with it. I’m an east coast kind of girl not only in my own life but it would appear that I am one in my general reading tastes as well. However reading something so different from the known and familiar can be a very rewarding experience. Amanda Coplin’s wonderful debut novel, The Orchardist, set mainly in the apple orchards in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, is just such a book: totally unlike my usual reading choices and yet such a treat to read.

Opening with Talmadge, a confirmed bachelor who lives alone on his apple farm, allowing two silent and skittish young sisters, Jane and Della, both hugely pregnant, to steal his apples and to find refuge amongst his apple trees, this is a tale of the families we choose, the connections we are driven to make, and the ways in which people get lost, some forever and others only until their battered hearts are finally touched. Talmadge is reticent and retiring, willing to live and let live, offering these two wild girls the slow, careful, free of obligation care that they need. After he discovers the horrors of their past, the nightmare life from which they are fleeing, he tries to save them but he can only save Della and the infant Angelene, Jane’s baby. As the years pass, Talmadge continues to care for these two, becoming their only family, allowing Della the freedom to choose her own life amongst horse thieves and hunters, despairing her loss and her eventual absence from his and Angelene’s life. Meanwhile Angelene grows out of babyhood in the care of this crusty, old man and his good friend, Caroline Middey, a sort of midwife and herbal wise-woman always knowing that Talmadge feels his failure to save Della from her own self and that while he cares deeply for Angelene, Della is his focus.

The novel is sprawling, epic in scope, spanning the long latter half of Talmadge’s life, the desperation and futility of Della’s, and the quietly hopeful start to Angelene’s. It is positively mesmerizing and utterly hypnotic in its writing. The characters are reserved and somehow unknowable but that much more intriguing for their almost complete inscrutability. They do not dwell on their past misfortunes but those misfortunes certainly shape them into who they are, impacting them deep and to the bone. The narration follows several different characters so that the reader can see the motivation for their decisions and can catch brief glimpses into their otherwise closed off hearts. Coplin’s depiction of a man who comes to form an unconventional family late in life with all the dedication and devotion with which he is capable is masterful. Her drawing of Della, too damaged to be saved, even by the careful attention Talmadge gives her is heart breaking. Both characters can only finish in the ways in which they are drawn even in the face of the tension of the major climax. Just how far can and should someone go to save a person they love? This is a book that will continue to resonate and haunt the reader long after the last page is turned.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy character driven novels, and it sounds like this one might fit that description. The characters sound fascinating, and the story sounds quite good. Thanks for the terrific review.


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