Booktopians, I’ve got a real treat for you. Within the folds of The Orchardist, I give you not only Amanda Coplin’s debut as a novelist, but also her debut as one of the most poignant, tender and gripping writers to emerge from the US in many years.
The Orchardist, set in the late 1800’s, tells the story of the tender, if slightly hermitish orchardist, William Talmadge, as he encounters two pregnant, indigent girls, Della and Jane, attempting to steal fruit from his store or better yet, cart. He gives chase and rather than punish them he tries to takes them in and attempts to save them from the darkness that has engulfed them. The girls are both orphans, sharing the same sense of abandonment he feels towards the world when his mother and father died before his 13th birthday leaving him the orchard to run with his younger sister who also left him not long after, stumbling one day into the Cascade Mountain forests to never return.
Despite these parallels the girls are reluctant to trust the gentle man despite his kindness towards them Their history of ritual abuse becomes clear as does Talmadge’s reluctance to give up on the girls.
Rather than be taken in by him they settle on the outskirts of his property, content to steal from Talmadge who allows them to do so, before scattering away to their camp again.
They form an uneasy bond until it becomes clear they weren’t just fending for themselves on the streets that fateful day, but were under the hands of another, a cruel man, the complete antithesis of the caring Talmadge. He wants them back, and he is on the hunt.
If I go any further I risk spoiling the twists and turns of this wonderful novel, so I’ll leave the plot at that. Short to say, the beginning will capture you, the middle will bring you to the edge of your seat and the ending will shock and lead to more questions than perhaps you have answers for, the sign of a truly wonderful novel.
The Orchardist has created quite a stir in the literary world and after reading it I can certainly understand why. Leaving out the awkwardly intense man crush I have on Cormac McCarthy, Amanda Coplin’s prose is at times the most like the Pulitzer Prize winner of any author I’ve read. I simply can’t give her writing higher praise than that. For me that deduction borders on heresy, but there it is.
Coplin uses her considerable skill to utilise every detail of the orchard as a window into the emotional flux that populates the novel at any particular time. The process of raising a crop, from planting the seed to the cultivation and finally the harvest, is crucial in the delicate development of the characters and the story arc. There are also a colourful characters that surround Talmadge who are an absolute joy. I can’t stress enough; this really is a superb book.
So take it from me, beat the buzz. The Orchardist will be knocking down the doors when the gongs are handed out so grab a copy now. Meditate with one of my favourite books of the year and be taken by the journey. You won’t be disappointed.
Review by Andrew Cattanach