Friday, October 19, 2012

Amanda Coplin Plants The Orchardist

The Orchardist
Although sorrowful and somber, The Orchardist: A Novel by Amanda Coplin, presents a beautifully haunting tale of what it means to be a family. This is especially true for William Talmadge, who had already settled into the idea that he would live out the balance of his life alone.

His own family was taken from him long ago. It was the summer of 1857 when they first arrived in Washington and he was only 9 years old. Three years later, his mother would die of a respiratory infection. Five years after that, his sister would head out into the forest one day and never return.

Somehow, Talmadge managed to persist on his own. He continued to tend the orchards that he and his family started from nothing more than  two ailing Gravensteins and a small plot of vegetables. The orchards, of course, were significantly larger now. After he acquired more land with the help of the Homestead Act of 1862, he had grown the orchards to nearly 25 acres, widening the space between himself and his nearest neighbors at the same time.

Maybe families are made by the people we find and lose. 

Everything Talmadge had come to know about being alone, except when he sold his fruit at market, comes to an unexpected end when two runaway girls, both pregnant survivors, seek shelter in his orchards. These girls, despite being damaged and distressed, change his outlook about everything.

Even before they followed him home, he was immediately taken by these hungry and dirty creatures who were busy contemplating how they might steal his apples and apricots. If he dozed by his wagon before the churches let out, they would eat for the first time in days.

When Talmadge did doze off, he wouldn't wake up again until one of the boys from town hollered at him. He had been robbed and the boy offered to chase them down. But Talmadge didn't want to bother. He was more curious than furious over the loss of a few apples.

He became even more curious when they camped themselves at the foot of his orchard a few days later. Their appearance had rekindled a memory, two ghosts who reminded Talmadge of his own lost sister.

In the days that followed, the two girls would only take one tentative step after the next, slowly shortening the space between them. From their point of view, it was only out of necessity. Talmadge had food, and taking it from a man was barely the lesser of two evils against the prospect of starvation.

A story is set in the near wilderness of a different era.

The novel is not historical in that the era is but a footnote compared to the isolation and introspection that drive it forward. In this regard, although horse wranglers do seasonally use the open area of Talmadge's land for their horses, there is a near-gothic tone that could have played out almost anywhere or in some other time (archaic laws and a general mistrust of lawmen notwithstanding).

Instead, between her bouts of vidid imagery, Coplin tells the story of this rare and gentle heart, a man who lives in a time and a place that was anything but tame. In fact, the world around him is incredibly harsh.

Jane and Della, for example, had good cause to run away. But even they have become so familiar with an unsympathetic world, they never speak of the horrific lives they were dealt. They leave it up to Talmadge to discover that on his own when he sets out to discover their past. What he finds quickly ends any notion of reuniting a family as he had once hoped someone would do for him and sister.

Instead, with some assistance from an herbalist, midwife, and his closest neighbor Miss Caroline Middey, he decides to protect them (and their babies) the best he can. He does so despite knowing that any tranquility the three of them find will eventually come to an end. It is only a matter of time before the man who wants them back will change the trajectory of all their lives in a willful atrocity.

A quick wrap without spoilers and a note about the author. 

Amanda Coplin
The book spans the entire balance of Talmadge's life, his tentative relationship with the girls, and remnants of the next generation. Coplin mostly does so with unforgettable ease and a poetic lift to her prose. While there are times her pacing stumbles — either drawing some segments out too long and rushing others with a quick back and forth that bleeds years away in a few pages — The Orchardist has literary merit and Coplin the promise of becoming a great author.

After receiving her degree from University of Oregon, and MFA from the University of Minnesota, Coplin received residencies from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the Ledig House International Writers Residency Program in Ghent, New York. No surprise, Coplin's considerable insight in her novel comes in part from bring raised amongst her grandfather's orchards in Washington state.

The Orchardist By Amanda Coplin Picks Up 9.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

This is the kind of book that proves there are many different kinds of cool, with some of them loud and others just a sorrowful whisper. The Orchardist falls decidedly in the latter column, but only in so far as the orchard shelters those against the much darker and disquieting world.

Even so, every trip away is a constant reminder that the world is big enough to swallow them all up. Isolation and inoculation are two different things after all.

Although the novel isn't packed with as much action as many of our picks, it's fitting for anyone who appreciates a richly drawn atmosphere and characters you might know better than yourself. You can find The Orchardist: A Novel at Amazon or download it for iBooks. You can also order the novel from Barnes & Noble. The audiobook version is read by Mark Bramhall, who accurately captures the somber tone.
blog comments powered by Disqus