The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

orchardistMiddle-aged Talmadge is a quiet man by nature, content with raising his fruit trees and minding his own business.  He has some outside contacts beyond his farm – Caroline Middey, an herbalist who lives in town, is his friend and confidant, and others from the town know him from trade and habit.  There is also a group of horse traders who make yearly visits to his farm in Washington State.

Talmadge’s days are solitary and steady, and have been since the disappearance of his sister back when they were both teenagers.  Therefore, the presence  of two transient pregnant sisters in town is enough to disrupt his tranquility; they steal fruit from him during one of his town visits and then follow him to his property.  Talmadge is a compassionate sort.  He makes sure they have shelter and food and when their times come, he has Caroline come and help with the births; one baby lives, a daughter.

To make things more complicated, there is a man and his cohorts looking for the two girls,  and situations take a turn for the tragic when they find them living at Talmadge’s farm.  Della, the younger of the two, survives, grows to maturity, and then shuns the orchard for a life of hardship and revenge.  Talmadge raises the baby, who as she grows up becomes an apt pupil for farm work and a boon to him in his advancing years, but he yearns for Della to return.  When he finds out that she’s in jail, he does what he can to spring her release, even if it means hard time for him.

The Orchardist is a tale of unresolved issues, of rage against past wrongs amidst acceptance of the mundane.  The writing style reminded me of Cold Mountain in a way, although about a completely different place and time – the author has a very meditative state of prose.  I liked very much the way that she brought early 20th century Washington State to life, with the towns a semblance of civility along with a rough edge of the still untamed west.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

(William

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