THE ORCHARDIST by Amanda Coplin

Book Quote:

“From the folds of her skirt she brought out a dull green change purse.  How much?

He told her. She pinched out the correct change and handed it to him.

As he filled the sack with fruit, the woman turned and gazed behind her.  Said: Look what the cat drug in.  Those two looking over here like that, you aren’t careful, they’ll come rob you.  Hooligan-looking. She sniffed.

After a moment he looked where she nodded.  Down the street, under the awning of the hardware store, two girls— raggedy, smudge-faced— stood conspiratorially, half turned toward each other.  When they saw Talmadge and the woman observing them, they turned their backs to them.  He handed the burlap sack to the woman, the bottom heavy and misshapen with fruit.”

Book Review:

Review by Betsey Van Horn  (DEC 22, 2013)

In this understated and emotionally raw novel of a family born as much from choice as from blood, debut novelist Amanda Coplin explores themes of love, loyalty, courage, compassion, revenge, and honor, as well as the lifelong, traumatic impact of both childhood abuse and loss.

The novel opens with orchardist William Talmadge, a tall, broad-shouldered and solitary man who is composed of the most steadfast moral fiber and potent vulnerability of almost any protagonist that I can recall in recent (new/contemporary) literature. After his father died in the silver mines of the Oregon Territory when Talmadge was nine, he came to this fertile valley at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains (Washington State) in 1857 with his mother and sister. Within the next eight years, he suffered from smallpox, his mother died of illness, and his sister later disappeared in the forest, never to return. This is Talmadge’s story, and the saga of his chosen family, borne from the blood of loss and abuse.

Two young pregnant teenagers, Della and Jane, enter Talmadge’s life in his middle-aged years. They steal fruit from him at market, where he sells the apricots, apples, and plums from his sweeping acreage of crops. A bit of a touch and go, cat and mouse game ensues, as they follow him home, hide, and emerge when they are hungry, only to scamper and scatter away again, staying close to the edges of his property. Talmadge gradually gains, if not Della and Jane’s trust (they have a harrowing history of ritual abuse), then a tentative acceptance, and they become inhabitants of the orchard, living alongside Talmadge. He becomes their loyal benefactor.

If I give any more of the plot progression, it will proceed into spoiler territory. The story bears its fruit gradually, almost meditatively, during the first two sections (135 or so pages). There are eight sections in all, but some are long and pensive, and some short, at times just a few pages. The middle sections compress the years into thumbnail sketches without losing its stirring effect on the reader. The story is told in a quiet and nearly oblique manner, yet without being detached. The overall effect is powerful, and it rumbles fiercely, and menacingly, at intervals, without open sentimentality. The characters evolve delicately, with contemplative subtlety.

“Through glances she had caught various features—his nose, the set of his shoulders, the striking color of his eyes. But he had one of those complicated faces that one had to consider at length to understand how emotion lay on it, to understand it at all. It was like a landscape: that wide and complicated, many-layered expanse.”

The land is essential to the story—the planting of seeds, the cultivation, and the harvest. The orchard is Talmadge’s lifeblood, and a ripe motif for the burgeoning love he has for the family that has germinated from the edges of his vast plantation. Nature and nurture merge, and the repository of grief yokes to the deep basin of humanity and from there, the kernels of love grow and reproduce.

At times, as I reflect on the ending, I am troubled by the author’s choices, but so goes the cycle of life in its order and perplexity.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 675 readers
PUBLISHER: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (March 5, 2013)
REVIEWER: Betsey Van Horn
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another orchard book …


December 22, 2013 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Character Driven, Debut Novel, Facing History, Reading Guide, US Frontier West, US Northwest

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