The Orchardist

The Orchardist - Amanda Coplin sets THE ORCHARDIST in central Washington, the region in which she spent her youth. Her knowledge of its history, geography, architecture, and especially its people, draws us into the beauty and ugliness of life in the Wenatchee area around the turn of the 20th century. William Talmadge is a man of quiet tenacity. He has lived alone for forty years, nurturing his fruit trees and living by the simple rhythm of the seasons. His orchards are his anchor, and he needs little else but the companionship of Caroline Middey, the midwife and herbalist who lives down the road. Talmadge is well on his way to old age when he discovers two pregnant girls living on his property. Sisters Della and Jane were orphaned and abused, and are rightfully mistrustful of men. They behave like feral animals, circling and watching, darting in to devour the food Talmadge leaves for them before disappearing again. Eventually he earns a measure of their trust, and they allow him to care for them after a fashion. But still they are not safe. The man from whom they escaped is on the hunt, and tragedy looms. Through his relationship with the girls and their offspring, Talmadge learns that sometimes all the love and self-sacrifice in the world is not enough to repair a damaged spirit. Della is bent on self-destruction and revenge, and Talmadge pays a price for his deep and persistent concern for her well-being. Coplin's writing is the polar opposite of purple prose, restrained to a degree that sometimes left me wishing for richer descriptions and greater emotional depth. Higher highs and lower lows would let us know the characters more intimately and feel more connected to their experiences. Stylistic choices notwithstanding, Coplin's prose displays a careful polish. When I started this novel, it felt like I was going to spend forever getting through it. About 75 pages in, I finally connected with story and style, and read long into the night. Eight years in the making, THE ORCHARDIST will garner much-deserved acclaim for new novelist Amanda Coplin.