“Riding in the herd, the sound like one constant, endless sigh; some horses frantic and others calm, some remembering some wrong done to them while others wanted only to sleep, and each struggling with hunger and thirst; some horses pregnant, others desperate to copulate; and all moved forward as one body amid the heat and the dust. The men and Della spaced out and caught among them like ornaments in a blanket; like disparate thoughts fretting to cohere.”
Amanda Coplin, THE ORCHARDIST
THE ORCHARDIST by Amanda Coplin was published in 2012 and is 426 pages. I’ve heard many compelling reviews of the book, and bought it on the recommendation of bookseller, Jean Lewis. It is a sweeping historical drama set in the Pacific Northwest that reads like Steinbeck and haunts the reader long after the pages are closed.
The novel begins at the turn of the twentieth century on the remote land of William Talmage, a humble man who is largely alone on his orchard because of family losses and circumstance, but who is not entirely unhappy in his solitude. He has a friend at the market in town–a midwife and herbalist named Caroline, a mute Native American horse tamer named Clee who passes through during horse hunting season, and the painful memory of a sister he lost to the landscape years ago. It is upon the arrival of two feral, pregnant girls, however, that Talmage’s life is forever changed.
Decades pass in THE ORCHARDIST; seasons move over the land; the legacy of the inhabitants unfolds with fascinating and often painful clarity. Unspeakable tragedy punctuates the solace found in the tending of the trees; lives begin and end; and the young country grows with the story. Great truths and small beauties are revealed, but the power lies in the depth of the narrative. Coplin is a master–each section is meticulously crafted to reveal character through time and place, and the illustration of connection between the land and those who live on it is profound.
THE ORCHARDIST is a novel whose rich words burrow within the reader, pulling one into the story so deeply that the reader becomes one with it, a member of the tribe, a watcher enmeshed in the action. It is exhausting. THE ORCHARDIST cannot be devoured; it must be reflected upon and savored.
If you enjoy literary novels in historic settings, you must read THE ORCHARDIST. It will hypnotize, haunt, and challenge you. I give it my highest recommendation.