THE ORCHARDIST by Amanda Coplin is one of the best books I’ve read this year. In fact, I’ve just named it my favorite for 2012: no small feat. The cast of characters has set up housekeeping in my memory; I expect them to be around forever.
Talmadge is very much a solitary man, living alone in the hills of the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest in the mid 1800’s.. He’s methodical, keeps to himself, tends to his orchard, and lives a quiet life. His mother died when he was young; his sister disappeared, mysteriously, when she was in her teens.
The most exciting event each season is when the horse wranglers come through, making camp on the land and interacting with Talmadge. These men are rough and mostly natives. But have become welcome visitors through the years, some even becoming friends with Talmadge.
One day, Talmadge takes his fruit to town to sell at the market. And comes in contact with two young girls. These girls appear to be on their own. And they are hungry. They steal fruit from him while he nods off.
Jane and Della are sisters. They show up at the orchard soon after robbing Talmadge. They are filthy, do not speak, and are both very pregnant. And very young.
Amanda Coplin writes with such determination and attention to detail. Amazing detail. Her prose kept taking my breath away, time after time. This story reminds me somewhat of a magnificent novel called THE SEAMSTRESS by Frances De Pontes Peebles. The characters are edgy and unique and so beautifully fleshed out that you can feel their pain at living.
The girls have decided that Talmadge is someone they can trust. He, slowly and painstakingly, gets through to them, letting them know that they are safe with him, and carefully folds them both under his own broken wings. No harm will be done to them on his watch. He leaves food out for them. They live and react like feral cats, outside in the open. What has made them this way?
The danger hangs in the air like pollen. A stranger appears in town asking about the girls. Talmadge finally decides he must confront this man. These girls have obviously been abused in the worst sort of way. He must find out what is behind this. What he finds will take your breath away. I have read and heard of some awful things but this takes the cake.
Talmadge leaves himself open for heartbreak. But little does he know how much. Or how his decision to host these pregnant children will haunt him and change his life, desperately.
We know the girls are pregnant right from the get-go. So, there must be two births, right? These scenes are graphic and painful, but like a train wreck, you can not look away. Thankfully, a woman herbalist who is Talmadge’s only friend, is there to help. But you can only imagine what it would be like to give birth in the middle of nowhere with only the aid of two strangers. Harrowing is not too strong a word.
This time period is right before there were railroads in the great Northwest. It was wild, lawless. People ate what they could grow or raise themselves. Travel was by foot or horse.
This unputdownable story of epic proportions is, without question, the best book I’ve read this year by a new author. As this smart story unravels you’ll find yourself missing meals and sleep. But it’s all worth it.
Amanda Coplin is a fresh, new author. She is beyond good! I pray she has many more stories like this.
Many thanks to my friends at Harper Collins for supplying my advance reading galley. This one is a home run right out of the ballpark.!