The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a beautiful book - disturbing, yes, but quietly beautiful in the same way that Haruf's Plainsong or Robinson's Home and Gilead are.
Set in Washington State before it was a state, in what is now the area around Wenatchee, this story of Talmadge (orphaned at 13, fully alone by 17) and his orchard is a little haunting. He creates a beautiful space out of wilderness, selling apricots, walnuts, apples and other fruit in town but otherwise not part of the community, valuing his solitude and privacy above all (the only person in town he's friendly with is the doctor, Caroline Middey). The collision between his life and that of Jane and Della, two pregnant sisters on the run from their abusive, sadistic "owner" changes all three lives.
Della is the least balanced of the three mentally, and her sister's death just after the death of her own children (she was going to have twins) doesn't help. She abandons the house, staying outdoors and only cursorily taking care of Angeline, her niece, Jane's daughter. Slowly she abandons the orchards and the valley, taking off in search of something and leaving Talmadge, by then in his 50s, to care for a toddler. Growing up in the orchard, in all that solitude and away from children her own age, Angeline is actually a pretty well-balanced person (she does ultimately go to school, but this is in the late 1800s, so not for long) and enjoys Talmadge's company; he's at first a little flustered but settles into a laconic pattern of living with this semi-grandchild. In many ways, he's like Matthew Cuthbert (sans Marilla, obviously). The three lives intersect years later, with Talmadge and Della in jail despite public sympathy for their cause. Della dies there, but Talmadge comes home to the orchard for a year before dying himself.
The prose varies from sparse to more descriptive, steeping readers in this world. I felt jarred every time a modern noise interrupted my reading, surprised I wasn't back over 100 years ago in this orchard.
ARC provided by publisher.
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