At the turn of the 20th century in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a gentle solitary orchardist, Talmadge, tends to apples and apricots. Then two feral, pregnant girls and armed gunmen set Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect but to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.
Her character of Talmadge is one I can't get out of my head. Talmadge lives on his family's orchard in the western United States at the turn of the 20th century, all alone since his teenage sister walked into the woods one day and never came back. Did she run away? Was she kidnapped or killed? The answer to that question burns a hole in Talmadge's heart.
He is a taciturn man, and he has little contact with other people, save for Caroline, who tends to the townspeople's medical care, and the native American men who bring their horses through each spring and camp nearby.
One day Talmadge finds two nearly feral teen girls hiding in the orchard. He tries to make contact with him, but they are afraid. He leaves them food and blankets, and soon he breaks through to talk with Jane and Della. They are both pregnant and scared to death. He convinces them to come live inside his home, and has Caroline check them out medically.
Slowly, Talmadge discovers where the girls came from and he goes there in an misguided attempt to find out what happened to them and why they left. The girls fled a bad man and a worse situation, and Talmadge's discovery of this leads to a tragic event.
In his mind Talmadge hopes that by taking care of these girls, he can make up for not taking good enough care of his sister. Her disappearance changed his life forever, and this is a chance to redeem himself and have a family of his own.
The book alternates telling Talmadge's and Della's stories, but to say more would be to reveal parts of the story that are best left discovered by the reader herself, and this is a beautifully written story you will want to discover for yourself.
Talmadge is one of the most indelible characters in recent memory. His story is one of loyalty, redemption and the importance of family, whether it's the one you are born into or one you create. Congratulations to Amanda Coplin who won the Barnes & Noble Discover Writers Award for Fiction last night in New York City. The story is here.
The Orchardist made many Best of 2012 list, including my Most Compelling Books of 2012, and if you haven't read it yet, it's now in paperback.
It is a beautifully written story of early 20th century eastern Washington state. William Talmadge and his sister tend an orchard after the death of their mother. One day his sister goes into the forest to gather herbs and never returns. All they ever find of her is her apron and her bonnet. Talmadge is devastated by her disappearance and spends the rest of his life haunted by this event. When, as an older man, two young, pregnant girls running away from a life of abuse, arrive in the orchard, he is more than ready to invite them into his life wanting only to protect and care for them.
The beginning of this book was a complete page turner, being both reflective and spellbinding. Her description of sunlit days amongst the apricots and apples evoked my senses and totally captured my imagination. This book that started as such an emotional and touching story unfortunately wasn‘t able to hold onto the beautiful rhythm. The second half of the book was both underwhelming and seemed to drag on indefinitely. I wish the author had shortened the book by about 150 pages which would have made for a tighter, more stunning story.
This was a debut novel and I am glad that I read The Orchardist. Amanada Coplin writes with style and flair. Her ability to combine both lyrical and sparse prose shows a talent that leaves me wanting to see what she does next.
I then rushed home to finish the remainder of the book, and found that what I adored in the first half actually turned to an irritation in the second half. Talmadge, in the first half, is a protector, a gentle giant, and someone who looks out for the girls he meets. However, while his character really doesn't change, the fact that he hardly talks to people, doesn't ever open up, and doesn't share key pieces of information with Angelene really irritated me. I also found it frustrating that his character basically ignored those close by at times, only to focus his efforts on the unreachable. I know it was mentioned that perhaps Della needed him more, but so did Angelene.
I think this is why the character of Caroline was more appealing to me - she seemed to be the grounded one for Angelene and didn't shy too much away from telling her what was going on, or pointed out to Talmadge what he should do. Why neither adult found it necessary to ensure she went to school though, is still a mystery to me.
Perhaps the personality traits were ones that Coplin was aiming for - they are secluded, limited in their education, and with limited social interactions of any sort. The non-communicative styles of several characters seem to be a theme of sorts.
I also have to comment on the ending. I don't really know what I was looking for, but it just sort of...ended. I was somewhat underwhelmed, which is a bummer, because I actually loved Coplin's writing style. Her descriptions of the orchards and of Washington in general seemed to be spot on and actually transported me there easily.
I will be curious to see what others thought of this book - did it remind anyone of Steinbeck at all?
I found it interesting that love in this novel has nothing to do with sex. Talmadge's relationships with Jane and Della are non-sexual, like father/daughter relationships; and his relationship with Caroline Middey is the same, although in her case they are two friends who help each other out. Sex is mentioned in the book, but only in negative ways. I can think of three in particular: when it is mentioned that Talmadge had visited a prostitute Caroline recommended, when Michaelson's sadistic behavior is described, and when a few loveless scenes involving Della are described. So although this book is about love, it is nontraditional in its approach.
Another type of love is important to Talmadge, the love of his land. He shows this love by taking care of the land and receiving its gifts with gratitude. He does the same with the people in his world. Although he is always there for the people he cares about, he speaks only when necessary. In fact, all the characters in The Orchardist keep their thoughts to themselves. One of them, Cree, never speaks to anyone, but is a loyal friend when he's needed.
The Orchardist creates a beautiful world through the author's careful writing (mentioned many times by other reviewers). The scenes are excellent, but what impressed me the most was the way Amanda Coplin described the thoughts of her characters. Here's an example from Caroline Middey's point of view:
And that was the point of children, thought Caroline Middey: to bind us to the earth and to the present, to distract us from death. A distraction dressed as a blessing: but dressed so well, and so truly, that it became a blessing. Or maybe it was the other way around: a blessing first, before a distraction.
I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys character oriented fiction and American history.
Steve Lindahl - Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions
My thoughts: I confess: the description of this novel did not entice me to read it, but as it kept appearing on "Best of the Fall" lists, I took a chance, and I'm so glad I did. I think the word haunting may be approaching overuse for describing novels, but in the case of The Orchardist, it's apt. Coplin's writing is as haunting as her characters:
"She'd had the look of departure about a year before she disappeared. A watchfulness. Stirrings of restlessness in a creature otherwise inimitably patient."
The pace of the novel is also somewhat haunting. The novel is told in vignettes of varying length and time moves slowly sometimes and quickly at others. The story always flows beautifully, and I found myself reading it slowly to savor its stillness and depth.
Favorite passage: "And that was the point of children, thought Caroline Middey: to bind us to the earth and to the present, to distract us from death. A distraction dressed as a blessing: but dressed so well, as so truly that it became a blessing. Or maybe it was the other way around: a blessing first, before a distraction. Caroline Middey scrutinized this point; did not know if the distinction was important. (But all distinctions are important.)
The verdict: The Orchardist is simultaneously heart-breaking and heart-warming. It's a beautifully rendered debut novel, and Coplin's prose is as haunting as Talmadge himself.
This story is incredibly well told but it is so sad. The characters go through so much that I kept hoping they would find some peace and happiness. Like life, not everything is tied up in the end in a neat bow. Some characters seem to escape their due punishment while others never stop suffering for the sins committed against them. While this book left me feeling rather melancholy I enjoyed the story and couldn't put it down. This was an excellent debut novel by a gifted author.
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.
Talmadge lived alone in his family home that really had no family except Talmadge until one day two girls, Jane and Della, arrived on his land and began stealing his fruit. Talmadge let them steal the fruit, and he also fed them. They stayed away from him for the most part and only made an appearance when he put food out for them. Both girls were pregnant, and Talmadge had the midwife stop by to try to get the girls to warm up to her since they would be needing her.
These girls became his family or the best semblance of what a family could be. The book follows Talmadge through the stages of the girls' lives and how their being present in his life helped him be happy as well as allow him to experience the heartache of their growing up and his being a concerned parent. His concern for Della became an obsession.
As you continue reading, you will become extremely involved in the plot and the lives of each character. You will become attached to Talmadge, Della, Caroline, and Angelene and hope things turn out for all of them. Talmadge was an odd person and one you would like to tell to wake up even though he was such a good person. Caroline was the character who held everyone together. Della was not a likable character. And wonderful Angelene was adorable, kind, and a character you will fall in love with.
The book had marvelous descriptions of feelings, landscapes, and characters. It was beautifully written for a first novel. It was as outstanding in writing style, interest, and development of the story and characters as a seasoned author.
I can't give enough praise for this book. It was touching, tender, brilliantly written, mesmerizing, and one you will remember long after you turn the last page.
THE ORCHARDIST is not an uplifting book but the prose and the storyline are so exceptional that regardless of the book's mood it instantly grips you. 5/5
This book was given to be free of charge by the publisher without compensation for a blog tour with TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
I truly did not want this book to end and wish I could read it again for the first time.
Focused on the life of William Talmadge, Ms. Coplin invites us into his mind as well as the minds of those he encounters during his life, most of which is spent on his orchard in the Pacific Northwest during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Talmadge tends to his trees and his basic human needs alone for decades before the day two young sisters steal some of his apples from his wagon while he in town selling them. He does not go after the girls and they later turn up on the edge of his field watching him.
The sisters are young, pregnant, and hungry. They have run away from somewhere and/or someone. He generously leaves food for them,, allows them to enter his home while he is in the orchard and slowly takes them into his lonely life.
The following years bring happiness and grief, fear and wonder, love and friendship.
The epic story of Talmadge's life is so wonderfully articulated, it is amazing that this is a first novel. The descriptions of the people, the trees, the chores of everyday life are tenderly written.
I looked back in my notes to see where I first heard about this novel and found a short review in Entertainment Weekly. Stephan Lee writes: "There are echoes of John Steinbeck in this beautiful and haunting debut novel set in early-20th-century Washington State."
I will agree with Mr. Lee. John Steinbeck's influence is easy to recognize, whether intentional or not.
The other thing I enjoyed about this novel is the lack of quotation marks for dialogue. I found myself slowing down to make sure the words were spoken and not thought. The slowing of my reading allowed extra time to take in every lush sentence.
Well worth the time. A truly enjoyable reading experience.
Talmadge lives a quiet, reclusive life, caring tenderly for his orchard. His mother had passed on, his dear sister mysteriously disappeared. Two teen sisters appear on his property, runaways from a violent, drug-addicted man who prostituted and abused them. The girls are as furtive as wild animals but Talmadge cares for them much as he cares for his orchards and wins a grudging trust. He becomes devoted to Angelique, the unwanted infant born to one of the sisters. Much of the book focuses on this tender relationship and their quiet life. But when the teen flees the farm, Talmadge cannot let go and he strives to help her, in spite of her dire troubles. Although it is never stated, one cannot help but assume he is trying to rescue the girl in lieu of his inability to recover his sister.
This is a slow-paced, exquisite set of character studies. The book is emotional, insightful and wrought with tragedy. While some complain the book and the characters’ lives are too limited, a friend who grew up in a similar setting remarked on how authentic a portrayal this is of life on a remote farm.
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!
Set in the early years of the 20th century, there is nevertheless a timeless quality to this novel. Talmadge’s orcharded valley is a haven for him and for the girls alike. Rich, lush descriptions of the natural world and Talmadge’s simple life draw the reader into his world, but Coplin does not sentimentalize. Talmadge’s world is also a hard one, and the girls’ lives have not been easy, nor do they get any easier. Captivating and eloquent.
When Jane and Della arrive at the orchard they both are pregnant and will not allow Talmadge near them. He had to lure them in like you would a frighten and abused animal. And abused they had been. He sets out food for them. They watch and follow him at a safe distance. Jane is the elder. Talmadge confides in his friend Caroline Middey about the girls. Caroline is skeptical but assists. The babies come and only one lives, they name her Angelene. Jane is her mother.
Talmadge is a quite character but not a peaceful one. He has a lot of inner turmoil and discontentment. You want Talmadge, Jane, and Della, to be a "happy" family but it can't be due to the horrific and tramatic past events all parties have suffered through. Instead of Angelene being the connective thread she turns into somewhat of a pawn for Talmadge. She is loyal to him. Della, the rebel, is restless throughout the entire novel. Della not only drained Talmadge but, in my opinion, she was a burden on me the reader.
The Orchardist is equally full of extreme beauty and tragedy. The scenes in the orchard allows the reader to escape from all the darkness of the characters. Coplin describes the landscape so vividly that you feel as if you are walking down the rows of plum, apple, and apricot trees. My favorite scenes from the book is the yearly arrival of the horses to the orchard. Like the characters you anticipate their arrival. Words escape me as to how to describe it. During a difficult time in the novel, Angelene gives Della a gift and it was so touching. It was one of those "hidden nuggets" that are in well written novels that the reader may miss if they aren't paying close attention.
Like Twelve Tribes of Hattie, I did not love or hate The Orchardist but I cannot not deny the fact that it is beautifully written. These aren't lollipop characters. They are dark, complex, and haunting. There is also a calmness about them that allows you to enjoy the story. The beginning and ending of this novel is quite enveloping but you can get bogged down in the middle.
ARC provided by publisher. In no way does this influence my review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Author Amanda Coplin, despite her youth, displays a sure touch in the descriptions and dialogue of this majestically paced story of loneliness, loss and love of the land. The major characters here - Talmadge, Della, Caroline Middey and Angelene - come completely and realistically to life under Coplin's hand, each reflecting the losses suffered, as well as the solace sometimes found in solitude and work done well.
Talmadge himself is the central enigma of the story. His habitual, sometimes almost maddening, reticence in all things is central to the tragedies which befall him and the others. (Indeed, all of the characters seem to have a problem with looking anyone in the eye, always looking at a space just over the adressee's shoulder, or at a corner of the room, or desk. Its' almost like an epidemic of autistic behavior. Or perhaps just shyness.) But this quiet hesitance to speak is understandable, given the fact of the early loss of his beloved sister and how he spent most of his life subsequently alone, up until the arrival of the two pregnant girls, Jane and Della. The only one who outdoes Talmadge in his silence is Clee, the mute Indian horse trainer. And then there is the character 'mid'way between them, the herbalist and midwife, Caroline Middey, who has also spent most of her life alone, although there is a hint of sorrow there too, in the loss of a beautiful onetime young Indian apprentice, Diana. With the mention of a shrine-like photograph of this girl in Caroline Middey's house, one wonders if this might be a tastefully veiled hint at a romantic relationship between the two women, which would also help explain the completely platonic bond between Middey and Talmadge.
The character Della is a mystery in herself, like the wild and half-broken horses that arrive in the orchards every year, she remains "unknowable" in her "unhandledness." Having been sexually mistreated and traumatized early in her life, by the whoremaster Michaelson (who may also be her father) and stillborn twins, she comes across as a wild thing, ruled by whims and passions without regard to consequences. Her niece, Angelene, brought bloodily into the world by Talmadge, seems the only nearly normal character, a product of being guarded and looked after by Caroline Middey and Talmadge.
The sure but stately progress of the plotline and the elegance of the language and its halting exactness brought to mind Reynolds Price and his SURFACE OF EARTH trilogy, or perhaps Marilynne Robinson's GILEAD, Jeffrey Lent's IN THE FALL, or Molly Gloss's THE HEARTS OF HORSES, which is, like this novel, set in the Pacific Northwest of the early 1900s.
I kept looking for significance in the characters' names (my own little quirk as a reader), but didn't really find much, aside from Caroline Middey, the midwife. But then there was the villainous, opium-addicted Michaelson, who, reformed, began calling himself DeQuincey, so of course I thought of the DeQuincey who authored "Confessions of an English Opium Eater." I couldn't help but wonder if Coplin considered this when she had this villain take a new identity.
Well, whaddayaknow? I guess I found something to say about the book after all. Plenty has already been said, but the comments I found most annoying were those quibbling and complaining about the dropping of quotation marks from dialogue. My response: So what?
I'll finish where I started. A stunningly beautiful book. Very highly recommended.
This book also had a distinctive writing style that makes this book an interesting read. This book is definitely worth the time and discussion.