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At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive orchardist, William Talmadge, tends to apples and apricots as if they were loved ones. A gentle man, he's found solace in the sweetness of the fruit he grows and the quiet, beating heart of the land he cultivates. One day, two teenage girls appear and steal his fruit from the market; they later return to the outskirts of his orchard to see the man who gave them no chase. Feral, scared, and very pregnant, the girls take ...
At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive orchardist, William Talmadge, tends to apples and apricots as if they were loved ones. A gentle man, he's found solace in the sweetness of the fruit he grows and the quiet, beating heart of the land he cultivates. One day, two teenage girls appear and steal his fruit from the market; they later return to the outskirts of his orchard to see the man who gave them no chase. Feral, scared, and very pregnant, the girls take up on Talmadge's land and indulge in his deep reservoir of compassion. Just as the girls begin to trust him, men arrive in the orchard with guns, and the shattering tragedy that follows will set Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect but also to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.
Transcribing America as it once was before railways and roads connected its corners, Amanda Coplin weaves a tapestry of solitary souls who come together in the wake of unspeakable cruelty and misfortune. She writes with breathtaking precision and empathy, and in The Orchardist she crafts an astonishing debut novel about a man who disrupts the lonely harmony of an ordered life when he opens his heart and lets the world in.
Winner of the 2012 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award for Fiction
His face was as pitted as the moon. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and thick without being stocky, though one could see how he would pass into stockiness; he had already taken on the barrel-chested sturdiness of an old man. His ears were elephantine, a feature most commented on when he was younger, when the ears stuck out from his head; but now they had darkened like the rest of his sun-exposed flesh and lay against his skull more than at any other time in his life, and were tough, the flesh granular like the rind of some fruit. He was clean-shaven, large-pored; his skin was oily. In some lights his flesh was gray; others, tallow; others, red. His lips were the same color as his face, had given way to the overall visage, had begun to disappear. His nose was large, bulbous. His eyes were cornflower blue. His eyelashes nothing to speak of now, but when he was young they were thick-black, and his cheeks bloomed, and his lips were as pure and sculpted as a cherub's. These things together made the women compulsively kiss him, lean down on their way to do other chores, collapse him to their breasts. All his mother's sisters he could no longer remember, from Arkansas, who were but shadows of shadows now in his consciousness. Oh my lovely, they would say. Oh my sweet lamb.
His arms were sun-darkened and flecked with old scars. He combed his hair over his head, a dark, sparse wing kept in place with pine-scented pomade.
He regarded the world—objects right in front of his face—as if from a great distance. For when he moved on the earth he also moved in other realms. In certain seasons, in certain shades, memories alighted on him like sharp-taloned birds: a head turning in the foliage, lantern light flaring in a room. And there were other constant preoccupations he likewise half acknowledged, in which his attention was nevertheless steeped at all times: present and past projects in the orchard; desires he had had as a young man, worries, fears, of which he remembered only the husks; trees he had hoped to plant; experiments with grafting and irrigation; jam recipes; cellar temperatures; chemical combinations for poisoning or at least discouraging a range of pests—deer and rabbits and rodents and grubs, a universe of insects; how to draw bees. Important was the weather, and patterns of certain years, the likelihood of repetition meteorologically speaking, what that would mean for the landscape; the wisdom of the almanacs, the words of other men, other orchardists, the unimportant but mostly the important words. He thought of where he would go hunting next fall. Considered constantly the state of his land, his property, his buildings, his animal. And mostly he thought of the weather that week, the temperature, and existence of, or potential for, rainfall; recent calamities and how he was responding to them; the position of the season; his position in the rigid scaffolding of chores—what he would have to do that day, that afternoon and evening, how he would prepare for the next morning's work; when were the men coming, and would he be ready for them? But he would be ready for them, he always was, he was nothing if not prepared. He considered those times in life when he had uttered words to a person—Caroline Middey or Clee, or his mother, or a stranger who had long forgotten him—he wished he had never uttered, or had uttered differently, or he thought of the times he remained silent when he should have spoken as little as a single word. He tried to recollect every word he had ever spoken to his sister, tried to detect his own meanness or thoughtlessness, his own insensitivity to certain inflections she might have employed. How long ago it was now. At times he fretted about forgetting her, though in fact—he did not like to admit this—he had already forgotten much.
Now, at his back, the shrouded bushels of apples and apricots rustled in the wagon bed, the wagon creaking forward beneath the weight; the old, old familiar rhythm in accordance with these leagues of thought. Dazzled and suspended by the sun. The mountains—cold—at his back. It was June; the road was already dusty. His frame slightly hunkered down, the floppy calfskin hat shielding his brow, under which was a scowl holding no animosity. The large hands, swollen knuckles, loosely holding the reins.
From the wheatfields he entered the town, and drew down the main street. Quiet. It was Sunday. The nearer church, he thought—the Methodist was on the other side of town—had yet to release its congregation. He hitched up outside the feed and supply store, watered the mule. While he was setting up the fruit stand—tugging forward each burlap-covered bushel in the back of the wagon and unveiling them and unloading them—a woman rounded the corner and gained the platform, approached him. Half her face was mottled and pink, as if burned, her mouth an angry pucker. She held defensively to her breast a burlap sack and bent and inspected the uptilted bushel of Arkansas Blacks. She reached for an apple but did not touch it; glanced dubiously at a bushel of paler apples he presently uncovered. What're those?
He glanced down. Greenings. Rhode Island Greenings.
When he spoke, his voice was low and sounded unused; he cleared his throat. The woman waited, considered the apples. All right. I'll take a few of those. From the folds of her skirt she brought out a dull green change purse. How much?
He told her. She pinched out the correct change and handed it to him.
As he filled the sack with fruit, the woman turned and gazed behind her. Said:
Look what the cat drug in. Those two looking over here like that, you aren't careful, they'll come rob you. Hooligan-looking. She sniffed.
After a moment he looked where she nodded. Down the street, under the awning of the hardware store, two girls—raggedy, smudge-faced—stood conspiratorially, half turned toward each other. When they saw Talmadge and the woman observing them, they turned their backs to them. He handed the burlap sack to the woman, the bottom heavy and misshapen with fruit.
The woman hesitated, still looking at the girls, then turned and nodded shortly to him, stepped off the platform, moved down the street.
From the wagon he retrieved his wooden folding chair and sat down next to the bushels. Wind gusted and threw sand onto the platform, and then it was quiet. Rain was coming; maybe that evening, or early the next day. The girls moved; stood now with their shoulders pressed together, looking into the window of the dry goods store. A gust of wind blew their dresses flat against their calves, but they remained motionless. He pulled his cap low. What did two girls mean to him? He dozed. Woke to someone addressing him:
That you, Talmadge? Those girls just robbed you.
He righted his cap. A slack-mouthed boy stood gaping at him.
I saw them do it, said the boy. I watched them do it. You give me a nickel, I'll run them down and get your apples back for you.
The girls had gotten farther than Talmadge would have expected. They made a grunting sound between them, in their effort at speed. Apples dropped from their swooped-up dresses and they crouched or bent awkwardly to retrieve them. The awkwardness was due, he saw, to their grotesquely swollen bellies. He had not realized before that they were pregnant. The nearer one—smaller, pouting, her hair a great hive around her face—looked over her shoulder and cried out, let go the hem of her dress, lurched forward through the heavy thud of apples. The other girl swung her head around. She was taller, had black eyes, the hard startle of a hawk. Her hair in a thick braid over her shoulder. She grabbed the other girl's wrist and yanked her along and they went down the empty road like that, panting, one crying, at a hobble-trot. He stopped and watched them go. The boy, at his side, looked wildly back and forth between Talmadge and the ragged duo. I can get them, I can catch them, Talmadge, he said. Wildly back and forth.
Talmadge, the boy repeated.
Talmadge watched the girls retreat.
A Conversation with Amanda Coplin
Your novel is set in central Washington State at the turn of the 20th century, near the area where you yourself grew up. If you were to go to Talmadge's property today, describe what you would see.
In the last century and a half, a lot has changed in that part of the country. At the same time, certain areas, in the deep forest flanking the Cascades, for example, have changed hardly at all. I remember hiking with my family in the Wenatchee Wilderness area as a child and coming upon a decrepit cabin that was so old that it seemed to have become part of the landscape itself. It had been there for maybe a hundred years. No one had torn it down, it had not disintegrated; it had just stood there empty all those years. And so maybe Talmadge's cabin would be a relic like that, empty but still standing.
But more likely that cabin would be long gone, and replaced by a small, contemporary home, and surrounded by a more uniformly cultivated landscape. These new people would have a satellite dish, and neighbors. That would be a difference; there wouldn't be that same depth of forest surrounding them that Talmadge would have experienced, that same sense of solitude. And there wouldn't be horses coming out of the trees, but maybe teenagers on ATVs, in the winter.
The central character, Talmadge, is a loner with a warm heart. What inspired this character?
My grandfather. He and my grandmother owned apple, cherry, and pear orchards just outside of Wenatchee, and my cousins, brother, and I spent a lot of time there as children. Talmadge shares my grandfather's quiet demeanor, his intense work ethic, his sense of humor. I can see a lot of my grandfather in Talmadge, and to certain degrees my own father and brother. But, ultimately, the character is distinct from the person. Talmadge became an individual over time, with his own history and identity.
How does the disappearance of Talmadge's sister and the death of his mother in the beginning of the book influence his later response to the two sisters?
I think Talmadge experiencing loss at such an early age created in him an intense kind of need, one of the most basic needs of all: for human companionship. Also, in losing his sister, he was without someone to care for, which is another human need; he was responsible for her, and failed her. The fact that we never find out what happened to her—Talmadge never finds out—only agitates the wound. Despite the years that have passed, he has still not healed. And so that makes the introduction of the two girls in the latter part of his life particularly significant; his reaction to them is exaggerated because of this earlier experience of loss.
People have commented that the landscape is almost another character in the novel. What draws you to nature and enables you to imbue it with such palpable clarity and beauty?
Spending so much time in my grandparents' orchard had a major effect on my imagination. I not only played in the orchard and spun elaborate games with my brother and cousins, but I also spent time by myself, often with a book in hand, and wandered through the aisles, and read. My love of language developed with my love of the trees, and with silence and solitude.
In time, and especially during the writing of this novel, my own intense childhood experience in the orchard caused me to reflect on the symbiotic relationship between a person and their landscape. The physical environment isn't just a stage on which human drama plays out; there is a very real organic as well as spiritual relationship between a person's interiority and the earth, sky, and weather which surrounds them. Our dreams, hopes, and fears take shape from material of the natural world. It is a part of us; we need the landscape to imagine as well as to physically survive.
Talmadge has an Orchard. Do you have a favorite kind of apple?
The last few years I've grown fond of the Honeycrisp apple, cultivated in Minnesota. It's a delicious snacking apple, firm and sweet and a little tart. I'm also partial to Granny Smiths, an apple originally cultivated in Australia but made popular in the States by Grady Auvil, an orchardist from Orondo, Washington.
Who have you discovered lately?
The last really striking book I read was Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be? There has been such a critical hullaballoo surrounding it, and I thought, well I'm going to read this book by this woman who is my contemporary, and see what the fuss is about. I was impressed by the risks she took, structurally and thematically, and while I agree with several of the criticisms aimed at the work, something about its spirit has stuck with me. I think it is a vibrant, brave, earnest book. I definitely look forward to what Heti does in the future.
Sheila Heti's novel has a relationship, in my mind, with work of other writers I've read in the last few years and loved, especially Joanna Kavenna, Celine Curiol, and Lore Segal.
Posted August 28, 2012
The Orchardist by Amanda Chopin is a novel taking place in Washington State at the early part of the 20thCentury. This is Chopin's first book and is a majestic debut, a new book which reads like an old friend.
William Talmadge had had a hard life, orphaned at an early age and losing his sister mysteriously, he made his living from a successful orchard which draw in all his talents and energy. Talmadge takes in two runaway teenager, sisters who were both abused and pregnant.
Life is rough inWashingtonStateand Talmadge is repaid for his generosity with a series of events marked with tragedy and violence, as well as a few glimmers of joy.
The Orchardist by Amanda Chopin is a beautifully written and haunting novel, a mood not usually captured by first time authors. The prose is lyrical and the characters enchanting, even though they might not be likeable they grow on the reader and make one invest in their future.
The reason I requested to be on the tour for this book is actually quite nostalgic. Many years ago, what seems like 100 years ago (and unfortunately, what seems like 100 lbs. as well) I walked along the Inca Trail in Bolivia(slightly less famous than its Peruvian counterpart which I walked several weeks later). After a few days we came upon an orchard in the Andes Mountains, ran by a Japanese orchardist (still inBolivia) who let us stay the night and eat as much fruit as we can.
I also worked in an orchard for a few years, back in Israel- a difficult yet rewarding job which I often view with rose colored glasses.
So you see, my fascination with orchards has been lifelong, the smell of an orange orchard brings a back many sweet memories, I simply could not pass up this book.
The depiction of the land and the frontier landscape are written with clarity and sensibility as well as incorporating the characters within it. The style worked very well for this novel because the people were part of the land, cultivated by it and not the other way around.
"But the next day he stood in the midsection of an apple tree and saw them come meandering down the orchard rows. He continued with the shears in the high branches and watched them indirectly. They stopped down the row from him and sat in the grass."
The theme of the book, people don't get over their losses, is established early on, about a quarter through the book. However the American sense of optimism which everything will work out and good things will happen is always present regardless of the challenges Chopin throws at her characters.
The prose is beautifully written, but at time overly stretched. That being said, the author's talent shines throughout the book, I certainly hopes she keeps on writing and am looking forward to read many more books of quality from her pen.
25 out of 35 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 28, 2012
I chose this book as a change of pace from historical fiction and found it to be a relaxing read for me of a man who loved his fruit trees and the way of life alone working in his orchard. The two young girls that came to him from a life made to serve men sexually changed it all for him. He was gentle and kind to the girls and treated them as family trying to protect them although he was not totally successful in the end.
I would recommend this book if you have any interest in the human condition and a simple way of life.
14 out of 18 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 30, 2012
The highlight of this book is the literary style. the language and lavish description is amazing. the magic is in the actual words. The down side of this book is that as far as the plot goes, it drags a bit. Characters are good and well developed. But the language!!! Wow!
13 out of 15 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 28, 2012
Posted August 21, 2012
again, 12.99? i know people hate these complaints in the reviews but
maybe the authors will speak up at some point--i'll wait for the
wholesale warehouse version at 7.99 thanks
13 out of 70 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 28, 2012
Beautifully written. A sad tale with a thread of unconditional love woven through it. The story of a good man , who lived his life unobtrusively, but who left a legacy of love.
12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 2, 2012
Posted November 3, 2012
The writing is perfectly matched to the lives and place of the characters. Shows how one seemingly small incident can be a big event that changes the path of many lives. Most importantly, the book brings to the fore how bad things that happen externally to our everyday environment require us to make decisions and take actions that we would never have imagined.
10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 10, 2013
A must read! The absolute poetry and musical quality of the prose is second only to the wonderful way the author explores the ways in which we love, share, hang on and let go. This is one of the best works I've read in quite sometime.
8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 6, 2013
I just finished this book and found it to be a wonderful read. I felt connected to the characters even if I didn't always understand their motivation.
The plot is well thought out and the characters are completely drawn and totally believeable. My favorite book so far this year and I read a lot!
7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 14, 2012
This book started out well, however, after the hanging it went really bad. The writer isnt sure of what direction she is going. I slaved through the last 180 pages. Picking it up to read was almost punishing. Unfortunately, i make myself read every book i buy, however i do not recommend it.
7 out of 21 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 28, 2013
Posted January 22, 2013
I listened to this during my commutes back and forth to work. Found myself sitting in my car just listening because i was enjoying it so much.
5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 24, 2012
Posted March 13, 2013
It's an Opus. This is no ordinary writing, it's a fine piece of music that affects your emotions. The topic of abuse is hard, but the story is exquisitely told.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 8, 2013
Let me begin by saying that I have wanted to read this book since before it was released. I felt drawn to it the moment that I read the synopsis, and the fact that I lived for a time in Washington State and loved the area only compounded my desire. So you can imagine how excited I was to get the opportunity to join this book tour!
Talmadge has been alone much of his life. A lone orchard farmer, he has been on his own since his mother died when he was but a teenager, and his sister mysteriously disappeared soon after. Then one day decades later enter two young pregnant girls, and Talmadge has something in his life outside of the orchard to focus on.
This story was beautifully quiet and reflective, and it most definitely is character-driven. The story could be very still and quiet at times, and it was only the characters propelling it forward.
Talmadge is a very stable, dedicated and committed man. Hardworking, ethical, sober and earthy, he keeps himself apart from the world, both logistically (in his orchard isolated from civilization), and emotionally and psychologically. He is the orchard manifested in human form.
Caroline Middey is a "medicine woman" who was called out to the farm when Talmadge was young. After his mother died, Caroline watched over him and his sister. After Talmadges's sister disappears and Talmadge ages, Caroline becomes a good friend and confidant, and later a surrogate mother to Angeline.
Clee is one of the Nez Perce that stopover in the orchard a couple of times a year on their way to auction with the wild horses they capture. He and Talmadge become friends as boys, even though Clee is mute and never speaks a word.
Della and Jane enter Talmadge's life as two pregnant children, running in fear from a demon. Della becomes a surrogate wild child to Talmadge, and grows to be a half-feral androgynous woman who never stops running from her demons, and who haunts Talmadge to his death.
Angeline is born on the orchard to one of the girls, and she grows up in the orchard. Talmadge is the only father she's ever known. She is the female version of Talmadge, and the opposite of Della. Quiet and contemplative, uncomplaining and enduring and resigned, she is a gentle soul, yet tough and determined.
This story can be heart-breaking at times, and can grab you by the gut and pull you along. It was as if Della became the main plot of the story, with Angeline the sub-plot, and Talmadge was the catalyst through which to present these two plots.
The setting to this story is everything. Without the orchards, this story couldn't exist. It plays such a central part in the lives of the characters. Talmadge loves the orchards, and Angeline loves the orchards, because she loves Talmadge. Like Talmadge, the orchard is "no part of this world", and holds itself apart from everything else, rarely invaded by the outside.
My final word: Lovely and lyrical. Descriptive without being overly done. Restrained. Carefully drawn characters deep with emotion. This story is a beautiful example of what makes a family: love, commitment, dedication, forgiveness. Family goes beyond blood. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who enjoys a slow, quiet read.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 19, 2013
Poignant, nuanced, richly detailed, with remarkably descriptive passages. The sense of time and sense of place are exquisitely drawn. Coplin does not let me turn away from these people,
developed more by what they see and feel and sense than by what they say. I want to see their land. I will remember this book for a long time and recommend it to many but not to all, for this is not a book for everyone. For me, it was that type of book that leaves me just a beat slower to pick up what I read next.... I leave it thinking about how we see wisdom, true contentment, and peace as opposed to mere happiness, facile satisfaction, and what we accept as knowledge.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 6, 2013
I couldn't finish this book. It started out okay but it was so slow and depressing I quit reading it. I do like the lyrical writing style of the writer but that's really the only good thing I can say about this book. Save your money.
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 24, 2012
Posted April 1, 2013