At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive orchardist, William Talmadge, tends to apples and apricots as if they were loved ones. A gentle man, he's found solace in the sweetness of the fruit he grows and the quiet, beating heart of the land he cultivates.Read more...
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At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive orchardist, William Talmadge, tends to apples and apricots as if they were loved ones. A gentle man, he's found solace in the sweetness of the fruit he grows and the quiet, beating heart of the land he cultivates. One day, two teenage girls appear and steal his fruit from the market; they later return to the outskirts of his orchard to see the man who gave them no chase. Feral, scared, and very pregnant, the girls take up on Talmadge's land and indulge in his deep reservoir of compassion. Just as the girls begin to trust him, men arrive in the orchard with guns, and the shattering tragedy that follows will set Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect but also to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.
Transcribing America as it once was before railways and roads connected its corners, Amanda Coplin weaves a tapestry of solitary souls who come together in the wake of unspeakable cruelty and misfortune. She writes with breathtaking precision and empathy, and in The Orchardist she crafts an astonishing debut novel about a man who disrupts the lonely harmony of an ordered life when he opens his heart and lets the world in.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-06-04
- Reviewer: Staff
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. Agent: Bill Clegg, WME Entertainment. (Sept.)
A fruitful first novel
Within the pages of novels, authors can preserve the world at one specific moment in time, like a dragonfly in amber. In The Orchardist, first-time novelist Amanda Coplin accomplishes an even trickier feat, blending past and present by weaving modern concerns into an old-fashioned narrative. The result is a drama of truly epic proportions.
The titular character of Coplin’s novel is a man named Talmadge, whose ties to the Pacific Northwest are as strong and gnarled as the roots of the ancient fruit trees he tends in his orchards. Although this land has borne witness to the struggles of his family across the decades, at the novel’s opening, Talmadge’s existence is a solitary but uncomplicated one. All this changes when he comes upon two pregnant and vagrant teenagers stealing apples from his trees. When Talmadge fails to give chase, Jane and Della ultimately return to the safety of his land, and an unlikely alliance forms as Talmadge’s compassion and long dormant desire to connect with others prompts him to take the two sisters under his protection. Alas, the tentative family they forge is not meant to last: A tragic event teaches the trio that there is nowhere you can go where your past will not find you.
This is one of those rare novels in which the individual parts are so brilliantly rendered that together they form a near-perfect reading experience. The characters are written with such compassion and the writing rings with a conviction and emotional honesty that belies Coplin’s youth. In the end, The Orchardist shares much in common with the fruits its protagonist nurtures: The succulent flesh of the novel will intoxicate readers early on, but delving deeper reveals a hard core that is vital, bittersweet and ultimately timeless.