by Amanda Coplin
Amanda Coplin knows the Pacific Northwest, she was born and bred there and still resides in the area. The Orchardist is a love song to her homeland. Set in Washington State at the turn of the century we get to see the major characters take their first ride on a railroad and of course they are enthralled and see it as almost a magical contraption.
William Tallmadge raises apples and apricots with the care usually reserved for a lover. He is a completely solitary man and self sufficient except for his friendship with neighbor Caroline Middey, a fellow introvert. The Orchardist is the story of what happens when the reclusive Tallmadge is at a fruit stand and two feral and very pregnant teenage runaways steal fruit from him. Tallmadge decides they need the nourishment and doesn’t retaliate. The girls are so surprised by his lack of vindictiveness that they sneak through the woods and follow him home. Della and Jane have been held against their will since they were children in a brothel not too far from Tallmadge’s orchard. Tallmadge opens his seldom used heart and lets the girls in and they become a close-knit family. The girls are like scared animals at first, painfully shy and skittish. Tallmadge works long and hard to earn their trust. The main focus of the novel is the relationship between Jane and Tallmadge who work the land together just the two of them for many years. It is enlightening and unusual to see the earnest character development in a story filled with so many introverts.
The opening chapters are a bit slow setting the background of how Tallmadge comes to live alone, with no kin, on a huge orchard. After that, the novel is a real page turner. It would not be an overstatement to call The Orchardist a great American tragedy. It is a novel of epic proportions. Before you worry that the novel is morose, let me assure you that is an uplifting and lyrical work of fiction. The book is truly a delight! I can hardly wait for Coplin to write another! I gave it five of five stars on GoodReads. I’ve read around seventy novels in 2013 and there is only one I’d rank as highly and that is The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult, another must read that is available at the library.
This book so set in a specific region of the country and when railroad travel is novel is reminiscent of Charles Frazier’s Thirteen Moons albeit Frazier’s setting is the South. If you like Frazier give the Orchardist a try. Those of you who enjoy Westerns will also enjoy The Orchardist.
Review by Kathleen Richardson