Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Book Review: THE ORCHARDIST: A NOVEL by Amanda Coplin--exquisitely-wrought story line and unforgettable characterizations will leave an indelible imprint


The Orchardist
Set in the untamed American West, a highly original and haunting debut novel about a makeshift family whose dramatic lives are shaped by violence, love, and an indelible connection to the land.

"The Orchardist is like one of its characters: 'an egg encased in iron'-an elemental story filled with the perfection of the natural world. Nearly everybody in the book compels your admiration, either for their courage or for the heavy work they do, all the time and without complaint, even when wicked men are hunting them. Transfixing. I love this book straight through."-Salvatore Scibona, author of National Book Award Finalist "The End"

You belong to the earth, and the earth is hard.

At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, a solitary orchardist named Talmadge carefully tends the grove of fruit trees he has cultivated for nearly half a century. A gentle, solitary man, he finds solace and purpose in the sweetness of the apples, apricots, and plums he grows, and in the quiet, beating heart of the land-the valley of yellow grass bordering a deep canyon that has been his home since he was nine years old. Everything he is and has known is tied to this patch of earth. It is where his widowed mother is buried, taken by illness when he was just thirteen, and where his only companion, his beloved teenaged sister Elsbeth, mysteriously disappeared. It is where the horse wranglers-native men, mostly Nez Perce-pass through each spring with their wild herds, setting up camp in the flowering meadows between the trees.

One day, while in town to sell his fruit at the market, two girls, barefoot and dirty, steal some apples. Later, they appear on his homestead, cautious yet curious about the man who gave them no chase. Feral, scared, and very pregnant, Jane and her sister Della take up on Talmadage's land and indulge in his deep reservoir of compassion. Yet just as the girls begin to trust him, brutal men with guns arrive in the orchard, and the shattering tragedy that follows sets Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect them, putting himself between the girls and the world, but to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.

Writing with breathtaking precision and empathy, Amanda Coplin has crafted an astonishing debut novel about a man who disrupts the lonely harmony of an ordered life when he opens his heart and lets the world in. Transcribing America as it once was before railways and roads connected its corners, she weaves a tapestry of solitary souls who come together in the wake of unspeakable cruelty and misfortune, bound by their search to discover the place they belong. At once intimate and epic, evocative and atmospheric, filled with haunting characters both vivid and true to life, and told in a distinctive narrative voice, The Orchardist marks the beginning of a stellar literary career.


On the very first page of "The Orchardist", Amanda Coplin stole a piece of my heart with her description of Talmadge, the title character of her debut work. I could see him immediately, and his image accompanied me throughout the story line. He became someone I knew. The author's exquisitely-wrought story line and unforgettable characterizations will leave an indelible imprint with this riveting tale of the Pacific Northwest. Set in time as the nineteenth century moves forward into a rapidly changing new world, the orchards themselves are timeless, repeating their cycle of rest and reproduction over and over again. Talmadge leads a mostly solitary existence, tending the fruit of his orchard and keeping his memories close to his heart. The land is his constant companion, holding the final resting place of his mother and the secrets of his sister Elsbeth's disappearance as a young girl. Talmadge watches the years come and go, harvesting his apples, apricots and plums, the peacefulness of his days enlivened with the annual arrival of horse wranglers who camp nearby each Spring. He sells his harvest in town, has few friends, and takes quiet comfort in the safety of his routine. One trip to the market proves to be life-changing when two half-wild pregnant girls steal some of Talmadge's fruit. He lets them run, not offering pursuit, and they later seek him out at his homeplace. They find shelter there, with the quiet, homely man and his beautiful, bountiful trees, and all of their lives are forever changed. However, a devastating threat to their happiness comes in the form of violent men who set in motion a tragedy that propels Talmadge into a harsh reality. When Talmadge opens his heart to two young women in need, he opens himself up to a world of trouble, but this odd, gentle man is quite a man indeed. You will think of "The Orchardist" often after you read his tale, and many of you will wish that there was a Talmadge in your own life. A highly recommended read. I look forward to more great reading from talented author Amanda Coplin.

Review Copy Gratis Amazon Vine


Amanda Coplin

A native of Washington State, Amanda Coplin has been a Fellow at The Fine Arts Work Centre in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as well as Ledig House International Writers' Residency Program in Ghent, New York. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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