”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.”
Thoughts: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin is not a flashy, action-packed story that happens to take place in the past. Nor is it a novel that exposes a reader to famous historical events or characters. Instead, it is a methodical drama of the mind and heart, unfolding slowly and deliberately but with such sweetness that a reader cannot help but be drawn into this calm but careful story at the same time as it captures the spirit and essence of the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the twentieth century.
On the surface, The Orchardist is very simple. One lonely man adopts two abused and scared girls, forming a family unit and creating the type of drama that typically ensues around families. Yet, the truth is anything but simple or even easy. All of the main characters are irreparably broken in mind and/or spirit, causing each of them to take certain actions that only heighten awareness of their individual desperation. Ms. Coplin leaves no doubt that these are good people to whom very bad things happen, and while they try to resolve their issues and obtain the contentment they desire, their pasts have done much to form their futures. A reader can do nothing but sit and quietly watch as each character slowly self-destructs, heart aching all the while at the total unfairness of it all.
For a society that exists on constant connectivity, the world in which Talmadge, Angelene, and Della live is foreign but satisfying. The work they do, captured so beautifully and thoroughly by Ms. Coplin’s crystal-clear descriptions and attention to detail, is difficult but results in a sense of contentment and even of happiness that most of society seems to desperately try to obtain. The historical elements of farming, life without mass transit or mass communication, are fascinating in their foreignness and provide some much-needed background information to be able to understand and appreciate Talmadge’s isolation. For it is his isolation and loneliness that ultimately drive his sense of loyalty and sets the stage for his later actions.
Mark Bramhall is an excellent choice for narrator for this quiet and unimposing novel. His voice is well-suited for that of Talmadge – gentle but passionate, proud and unassuming. His approach to the story is forthrightness, something that fits perfectly with the world Ms. Coplin creates. Most importantly, his voice is soothing and yet has the appropriate amount of gruffness that one would expect from a man who cherishes his solitude.
The Orchardist is one of those novels that does not have much in the way of action, but what it does not have in excitement is more than made up for by the amount of heart it contains. Talmadge has a very blue-collar, everyman appeal that is simultaneously comforting and satisfying. Ms. Coplin balances Talmadge’s prose with beautifully lyrical descriptions of the orchard and of the Pacific Northwest. The end result is a novel that is just as quiet and modest as its main character and every bit as memorable.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Beth Harper from HarperAudio for my review copy!