Amanda Coplin's beautiful debut novel, set as the 20th century opens, centers around an unconventional family whose members discover one another and confront their grief in the rural Pacific Northwest.
Talmadge lives a quiet and nearly solitary life in his orchard in the Pacific Northwest. After the death of his mother and disappearance of his sister when he was young, Talmadge has had only occasional contact with other people, and he has only two people who could really be called friends. Still, Talmadge is content with his quiet life — until two young, pregnant girls steal fruit from his cart in town on market day and then show up on the edges of his orchard.
Jane and Della are unkempt, nearly feral, and heavily pregnant. Like wild animals, they shy away from Talmadge at first, only very gradually warming to him enough to reluctantly take help from him. Part of what has the girls so spooked is the man who is searching for them, a sadistic man to whom they are terrified to return. After the man, Michaelson, comes to the orchard one day, only Jane's baby girl and Della remain with Talmadge.
The Orchardist is a beautifully written, character-driven novel. At the heart of everything that happens after Michaelson shows up are the defining moments of Della and Talmadge's lives. For Della, it is the arrival of Michaelson and the subsequent loss of her sister. She is a lost soul, never quite fitting in anywhere, never quite coming to terms with losing Jane. For Talmadge, the loss of his sister was also a seminal moment — he was not able to find or protect her, so he is determined to do whatever he can to protect Della and her niece.
Coplin's writing is lyrical and enchanting. She does use a little bit of dialect, which can be slightly off-putting initially, but both Coplin's language and her characters grow on the reader throughout the novel. While the beginning of The Orchardist dazzles primarily for the quality of the prose, by the end the reader is so invested in the lives of Della, Talmadge, and the unconventional family that now surrounds them that the story takes on a breathless quality. The reader turns pages almost without realizing it in order to discover what will happen to these vibrant and beloved characters.
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