Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review: The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

The June selection for book club is The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. Since I haven't read (or even been to) any of the books for book club since JANUARY I figured that I ought to read the book and attend the meeting for June. (I did attend for May, I just didn't finish the book: Look Me In The Eye: My Life With Aspergers). I tried to get a used copy of this book everywhere since summer is coming and anyone who works in public education can tell you that the summer months really can strain you financially. I was unsuccessful with that and when I tried to borrow a copy from the library the waiting list had 55 people before me! So, last Saturday I sucked it up and bought a copy at Barnes and Noble. I got myself a green tea and sat down to see what the book was going to be like. I ended up sitting in the cafe for over an hour, absorbed in the story. I would have had it finished in just a few days, but that pesky thing called "work" got in the way and it was a doozy of a week last week. However I was able to read the majority of it this weekend (over half of the book in two days!) and finished it up this morning, sobbing on my balcony and into my coffee.

Title: The Orchardist
Author: Amanda Coplin
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 426
Where I Got It: Barnes & Noble (Huntersville, NC)
Dates I Read It: May 4-12, 2013
Number of Stars: 4/5
Read For: Book club

The Orchardist is a man named William Talmadge and later the orchardist is a baby born into the land, Angelene Michaelson/Talmadge. William Talmadge had a rough childhood involving the death of his father in a mining accident and then his mother to sickness and then his sister to a mysterious disappearance. Left with literally nothing but the land he makes his life among the trees which he cultivates into a profitable orchard. By the time Talmadge is already well into middle age two teenage girls, Jane and Della, swipe fruit from him one day then follow him back to the orchard where Talmadge leaves food for them and eventually draws the girls in like stray cats to the comfort of his home. Did I mention that the two girls are pregnant, 'cause they are; very. Since they are teenagers and have been living in the wild, needless to say the pregnancies don't end completely happy, yet a child is born and named Angelene after one of Talmadge's family members. Over the course of the book the daughter grows into a woman all the time living in the orchard and picking up farming techniques rather astutely. If I give away any more of the plot it could be spoilerific, so I'll stop there, but do know that there is so much more to the story than just that.

I really enjoyed the story, despite the fact that it unfolded very slowly and the only real "action" didn't occur until the end of the novel. There were several themes that were explored throughout the book that piqued my interest. The first of those is the theme of family, specifically, what makes a family? It is not necessarily the people that we are born to, but rather, for Talmadge, it is the people you choose to love despite their aversion to affection. The question of what length would someone go to for someone that they love, especially if that person was incapable of giving love back is explored through the various characters in this book and examined closely through the difficult relationships of Talmadge and Della and Angelene (and to a lesser extent, Caroline Middey, the town Midwife and companion of Talmadge and Angelene).

The trauma of childhood comes into play as a central theme of this book as well. All of the characters have experienced some kind of trauma, some more than others, but for each character it is still something that motivates and gnaws at them throughout the entirety of the novel. With this type of theme and high emotion one would expect an extreme amount of character development and certainly Coplin left room for that development, yet it was so lacking in this department.  I needed to know more of the emotions felt by these people who were obviously drowning in emotion. For me, this was well done with Angelene, yet I felt as if I never really understood Della's or Talmadge's reasoning behind the actions that they took and the actions that they take are severe actions of the desperate.

The story blooms very slowly, much like the fruit on Talmadge's trees and it spans over two decades. The manner in which Coplin writes it, however, makes it seem much faster than that as she effortlessly makes the years seamlessly flow together. I was confused at times by the lack of quotation marks and it took me a good 10 pages to realize when people were speaking. I'm not sure why Coplin went with this strategy of forgoing quotation marks. It did add well to the flow of the novel, and that is one thing I can't praise enough about this book is how easily it seemed to flow. It read like an easy day by a slow moving river. Coplin is a master of the "show; don't tell" theory of writing. Each word, then sentence and ultimately each paragraph are chosen carefully and well thought out. Overall this is a very well done and beautifully written first novel! I will seek out more of Coplin's books should she write any more in the future.

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