The Orchardist

The Orchardist

3.8 187
by Amanda Coplin
     
 

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At once intimate and epic, The Orchardist is historical fiction at its best, in the grand literary tradition of William Faulkner, Marilynne Robinson, Michael Ondaatje, Annie Proulx, and Toni Morrison.

In her stunningly original and haunting debut novel, Amanda Coplin evokes a powerful sense of place, mixing tenderness and violence as she spins an

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Overview

At once intimate and epic, The Orchardist is historical fiction at its best, in the grand literary tradition of William Faulkner, Marilynne Robinson, Michael Ondaatje, Annie Proulx, and Toni Morrison.

In her stunningly original and haunting debut novel, Amanda Coplin evokes a powerful sense of place, mixing tenderness and violence as she spins an engrossing tale of a solitary orchardist who provides shelter to two runaway teenage girls in the untamed American West, and the dramatic consequences of his actions. 

Editorial Reviews

The Oprah Blog
“The exquisitely described landscapes in this tale astonish, but so do the emotional lives of its characters…a wise and great American novel.”
Chicago Tribune
“...the best first novel of 2012...the book brings to mind just how much the effect of reading about the land, the setting, with its lyric pulse, plays a role in the success of a forward moving narrative.”
Ron Rash
“Amanda Coplin has depicted her northwestern landscape with such fidelity that readers will know its every sight, smell, and sound. Within this world are compelling characters and their equally compelling stories. THE ORCHARDIST is an outstanding debut.”
Bonnie Jo Campbell
“To read this mysterious, compelling, elemental novel is to immerse yourself in the world of an old folk song, in which the passions and sorrows of plain people rage unseen and then blossom as madly (and quietly) as apricot trees. In THE ORCHARDIST, Amanda Coplin shows us what’s unknowable.”
Salvatore Scibona
“Nearly everybody in the book compels your admiration, either for their courage or for the heavy work they do, all the time and without complaint, even when wicked men are hunting them. Transfixing. I love this book straight through.”
Wally Lamb
“When you pick up THE ORCHARDIST, you will be lured at first by the lushness of the language. But soon enough the characters will take hold of you and you’ll read on hungrily, as if under a spell. It’s hard to believe that this is Amanda Coplin’s first novel.”
Charles Baxter
“Patiently beautiful, THE ORCHARDIST builds its characters and its situations so carefully that the story becomes as real to us as this morning’s news. I am in awe of Amanda Coplin’s book, which does not feel like a first novel but a life’s work.”
Patricia Hampl
“A rare find—this debut novel that reads with masterful authority. Stately and passionate—a stunning powerhouse. THE ORCHARDIST, like Marilynne Robinson’s GILEAD, drills into history, portraying an apparently modest American way of life but finally presenting us with a great American elegy.”
Top Fiction Pick BookPage
“In the end, THE ORCHARDIST shares much in common with the fruits its protagonist nurtures: The succulent flesh of the novel will intoxicate readers early on, but delving deeper reveals a hard core that is vital, bittersweet and ultimately timeless.”
Holloway McCandless
“This is an extraordinarily ambitious and authoritative debut.”
Top Fiction Pick - BookPage
"In the end, THE ORCHARDIST shares much in common with the fruits its protagonist nurtures: The succulent flesh of the novel will intoxicate readers early on, but delving deeper reveals a hard core that is vital, bittersweet and ultimately timeless."
Jane Ciabattari
“THE ORCHARDIST is a stunning accomplishment, hypnotic in its storytelling power, by turns lyrical and gritty, and filled with marvels. Coplin displays a dazzling sense of craftsmanship, and a talent for creating characters vivid and true.”
Booklist
“Coplin’s mesmerizing debut stands out with its depictions of uniquely Western personalities and a stark, gorgeously realized landscape that will settle deeply into readers’ bones.”
New York Times Book Review
“Many contemporary novelists have revisited the question of what constitutes a family, but few have responded in a voice as resolute and fiercely poetic.”
Washington Post
“Amanda Coplin’s somber, majestic debut arrives like an urgent missive from another century. You can only be thrilled by a 31-year-old writer with this depth of understanding…the final epiphany equals in stark grandeur similar scenes in Emily Bronte’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS and Pat Barker’s ANOTHER WORLD...”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Coplin’s prose is fresh and compelling…While the ending of this striking debut may not make every reader happy, it is, undoubtedly, the right one for both the book and for Talmadge, an unlikely hero who—like the book—is true to life and sweetly honest from beginning to end.”
The Oregonian (Portland)
“A stunning debut…THE ORCHARDIST is a poetic book, but its strength doesn’t lie solely in its language. Coplin’s understanding of abuse and the lasting effects of fear and loss on the individual psyche are deeply resonant. As a debut novel, THE ORCHARDIST stands on par with Charles Frazier’s COLD MOUNTAIN.”
Seattle Times
“THE ORCHARDIST is engaging and enthralling. The reader wants to turn each page quickly as the story develops, and wants at the same time to dwell on the lyrical moments of sunshine, soil and love.”
Entertainment Weekly
“There are echoes of John Steinbeck in this beautiful and haunting debut novel set in early-20th -century Washington State...Coplin depicts the frontier landscape and the plainspoken characters who inhabit it with dazzling clarity.”
Denver Post
“This is a novel to burrow into, to be submerged in a world that is both lovely and hard. It’s a world that becomes so real that one only leaves by being forced out by the closing of the covers that enfold it.”
Columbus Dispatch
“Coplin’s grave, graceful prose gives dignity to lives that otherwise might be too sad to contemplate. Her story, which turns in unpredictable ways, is both troubling and touching.”
Dallas Morning News
“A superb work from an abundantly gifted young writer”
Bellingham Herald
“Coplin’s consistent and finely-tuned rendering of a very different sensibility may help readers to comprehend a time when expedience did not rule…This patience is revealed in a narrative that is at once lyrical and unsentimental. This is the most extraordinary fruit of a noteworthy debut novel.”
Boston Globe
“[A] beautiful, powerful novel…THE ORCHARDIST has the sweep and scope of a big historical novel…yet Coplin is exquisitely attuned to small, interior revolutions as well. Its language as rooted and plain as the apple trees Talmadge nurtures, this is a gorgeous first book.”
BookPage

“In the end, THE ORCHARDIST shares much in common with the fruits its protagonist nurtures: The succulent flesh of the novel will intoxicate readers early on, but delving deeper reveals a hard core that is vital, bittersweet and ultimately timeless.”

The Washington Post
Amanda Coplin's somber, majestic debut arrives like an urgent missive from another century. Steeped in the timeless rhythms of agriculture, her story unfolds in spare language as her characters thrash against an existential sense of meaninglessness…Coplin's saga of a makeshift family unmoored by loss should be depressing, but, instead, her achingly beautiful prose inspires exhilaration…Angelene's final epiphany equals in stark grandeur similar scenes in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and Pat Barker's Another World—heady company for a first novelist, but Coplin's talent merits such comparisons.
—Wendy Smith
The New York Times Book Review
Many contemporary novelists have revisited the question of what constitutes a family, but few have responded in a voice as resolute and fiercely poetic.
—Jan Stuart
Publishers Weekly
The implacable hand of fate, and the efforts of a quiet, reclusive man to reclaim two young sisters from their harrowing past, are the major forces at play in this immensely affecting first novel. In a verdant valley in the Pacific Northwest during the early years of the 20th century, middle-aged Talmadge tends his orchards of plum, apricot, and apples, content with his solitary life and the seasonal changes of the landscape he loves. Two barely pubescent sisters, Jane and Della, both pregnant by an opium-addicted, violent brothel owner from whom they have escaped, touch Talmadge’s otherwise stoic heart, and he shelters and protects them until the arrival of the girls’ pursuers precipitates tragic consequences. Talmadge is left with one of the sisters, the baby daughter of the other, and an ardent wish to bring harmony to the lives entrusted to his care. Coplin relates the story with appropriate restraint, given Talmadge’s reserved personality, and yet manages to evoke a world where the effects of two dramatic losses play out within a strikingly beautiful natural landscape. In contrast to the brothel owner, Michaelson, the other characters in Talmadge’s community—an insightful, pragmatic midwife; a sensitive Nez Perce horse trader; a kindly judge—conduct their lives with dignity and wisdom. When Della fails to transcend the psychological trauma she’s endured, and becomes determined to wreak revenge on Michaelson, Talmadge turns unlikely hero, ready to sacrifice his freedom to save her. But no miracles occur, as Coplin refuses to sentimentalize. Instead, she demonstrates that courage and compassion can transform unremarkable lives and redeem damaged souls. In the end, “three graves side by side,” yet this eloquent, moving novel concludes on a note of affirmation. Agent: Bill Clegg, WME Entertainment. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Coplin's compelling, well-crafted debut tracks the growing obsession of orchardist William Talmadge, who has lived at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains since the summer of 1857, when he was nine. A loner shaped by the land he loves, Talmadge has carefully tended his orchard for nearly 50 years. His only real confidante is Caroline Middey, an herbalist, midwife, and natural healer. His orderly life is altered forever when two runaway girls, Jane and Della, arrive at the edge of his orchard, dirty, starving, and pregnant. A tragedy leaves Talmadge caring for Jane's baby, Angelene. Della has no interest in childcare or boring fruit picking and soon takes off with the horse wranglers who visit Talmadge's field every spring. Talmadge cannot accept Della's desire to leave the orchard, which in his mind strangely parallels the disappearance of his sister Elsbeth when they were children. Still tortured by Elsbeth's unexplained disappearance, he attempts to help Della in a way he couldn't help his sister, but this obsession leads Talmadge into increasingly dark terrain. VERDICT Coplin's lyrical style and forceful storytelling provide many unexpected twists before the poignant conclusion. A breathtaking work from a genuinely accomplished writer.—Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO
Kirkus Reviews
Set in early-20th-century Washington State, Coplin's majestic debut follows a makeshift family through two tragic decades. "You belong to the earth, and the earth is hard," 9-year-old Talmadge heard from his mother, who brought him and his sister Elsbeth to Washington in 1857 to cultivate an apple orchard after their father was killed. Their mother died three years later, and Elsbeth vanished five years after that, leaving Talmadge with a load of guilt that grew alongside his orchards. So when two starving, heavily pregnant teenage girls, Jane and Della, turn up on his land in 1900, he feels protective toward them even before he learns their history. They have run away from Michaelson, a monstrous opium addict who stocks his brothel with very young girls whom he sexually and physically abuses. When he turns up shortly after the girls have given birth, a shocking scene leaves only Della and Jane's baby, Angelene, alive to be nurtured by Talmadge and his close friend Caroline Middey, an herbalist who warns him that Della is likely to disappear as his sister did. Sure enough, Della soon heads off for a peripatetic life of hard drinking and aimless wandering, driven by the hatred and fear instilled by her youth with Michaelson. Angelene grows up devoted to Talmadge and the orchard, worried by the knowledge that he still pines for Della and Elsbeth. Della sees her erstwhile tormentor being led off in handcuffs when Angelene is 13, setting in motion a disastrous chain of events that engulfs Talmadge and everyone he cares for. "Why are we born?" wonders Della, a question that haunts all the characters. Coplin offers no answers, only the hard certainties of labor and of love that is seldom enough to ease a beloved's pain. Yet the novel is so beautifully written, so alive to the magnificence of the land and the intricate mysteries of human nature, that it inspires awe rather than depression. Superb work from an abundantly gifted young writer.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062188519
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
03/05/2013
Series:
P.S. Series
Pages:
420
Sales rank:
52,295
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

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.

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What People are saying about this

Salvatore Scibona

“Nearly everybody in the book compels your admiration, either for their courage or for the heavy work they do, all the time and without complaint, even when wicked men are hunting them. Transfixing. I love this book straight through.”

Holloway McCandless

“This is an extraordinarily ambitious and authoritative debut.”

Patricia Hampl

“A rare find—this debut novel that reads with masterful authority. Stately and passionate—a stunning powerhouse. THE ORCHARDIST, like Marilynne Robinson’s GILEAD, drills into history, portraying an apparently modest American way of life but finally presenting us with a great American elegy.”

Charles Baxter

“Patiently beautiful, THE ORCHARDIST builds its characters and its situations so carefully that the story becomes as real to us as this morning’s news. I am in awe of Amanda Coplin’s book, which does not feel like a first novel but a life’s work.”

Wally Lamb

“When you pick up THE ORCHARDIST, you will be lured at first by the lushness of the language. But soon enough the characters will take hold of you and you’ll read on hungrily, as if under a spell. It’s hard to believe that this is Amanda Coplin’s first novel.”

Bonnie Jo Campbell

“To read this mysterious, compelling, elemental novel is to immerse yourself in the world of an old folk song, in which the passions and sorrows of plain people rage unseen and then blossom as madly (and quietly) as apricot trees. In THE ORCHARDIST, Amanda Coplin shows us what’s unknowable.”

Ron Rash

“Amanda Coplin has depicted her northwestern landscape with such fidelity that readers will know its every sight, smell, and sound. Within this world are compelling characters and their equally compelling stories. THE ORCHARDIST is an outstanding debut.”

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