The Orchardist: A Novel by Amanda Coplin
Release date: 2012 / 448 pages
Synopsis(from Amazon): 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 at 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 them but also to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.
Review: The Orchardist is so close to greatness that the frustration I felt upon finishing was disproportionate. Coplin’s debut novel appeared on so many “Best of 2012″ lists that I was thrilled when TLC contacted me and immediately agreed to read and review this novel that had tempted me for months. I devoured the first three sections within a day, but then found the last few sections disappointing – so, my challenge in this review is to represent both the greatness and the perceived shortcomings without riddling this review with narrative spoilers that would be unkind to future readers. I will try my best to do justice to this lovely novel that could have been truly grand.
Within the first few pages, Coplin’s mastery of imagery is so exquisite that the orchard itself simply must end up with someone who will love and cherish it with the same passion for the land and for solitude as the man who created it:
Talmadge walked the apricot orchard, slowly, looking at the trees, which appeared the epitome of health. The bright fruit. His hands, reaching up to feel the branches, surprised him. Had he always had hands like this, red and splotched? Was he really so old? The bark beneath his thumb was gray and ridged; he rubbed it several times before he took his hand away.
There was a type of heat and light that was direct and overhead and bleached the orchard of color. The orchard at noon on the hottest days. And then there were mornings when the air was blue and soft, and the leaves of the trees looked like velvet.
In addition to the imagery of the orchard, the characterization is so complete, so immense that to not focus exclusively on those characters the reader grows to love would be cruel. One of the very few limitations of Coplin’s characterization is a lack of moral complexity. The good characters are truly too good and the bad ones too degenerate or destroyed to be three-dimensional or fully credible. However, the too-good characters are so easy to adore that to not provide them with satisfactory closure would be an injustice.
My primary struggle – and where the novel started to unravel a bit – was in the plot choices near the end. The strength of The Orchardist is solidly in the setting, exposition, descriptions, imagery and – to a slightly lesser extent – the characters. Plot was a distraction at best and an impediment eventually. The bulk of the book was beautifully wrought, so to witness any dissolution near the end was nearly tragic. I also found the passages involving the horses a bit off-key at times. The horses were nearly integral to the story, but were objectified to an extent that was surprising. And anyone who has spent any time around horses knows their breath can never truly be “rank” – literally due their grass diet. A horse’s breath is one of the sweetest scents on earth. And the characters who should have understood the nature of wild horses and how they must be handled did not act in a way that would be consistently effective with these sensitive, independent creatures. So, again, close but just off.
But I truly loved this novel – until I didn’t. The depth of my frustration was in its intensity a commendation…
Interested in winning a copy? Drop me a comment below! I do think this would make a good choice for a book club…
And be sure to check out the other stops on the tour, too:
Tuesday, March 5th: Book Club Classics!
Wednesday, March 6th: The Written World
Thursday, March 7th: Book Snob
Friday, March 8th: Unabridged Chick
Monday, March 11th: 5 Minutes For Books
Tuesday, March 12th: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, March 13th: missris
Thursday, March 14th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Monday, March 18th: The Betty and Boo Chronicles
Tuesday, March 19th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, March 20th: Raging Bibliomania
Thursday, March 21st: Becca’s Byline
Monday, March 25th: Amused By Books
Tuesday, March 26th: A Library of My Own
Wednesday, March 27th: Silver’s Reviews
Thursday, March 28th: Between the Covers
Monday, April 1st: Lit and Life
Tuesday, April 2nd: Paperback Princess