Part of the reason I wanted to read The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin is that the blurbs on the back of the book compared the story to something John Steinbeck might have written. Having read The Grapes of Wrath more than once and loved it more every time, that caught my attention. Another part of the reason were the reviews of the book I’d read in various places. So with all that in mind and the fact that my new “thing” in what I like to read seems to be turning into the American West between the Civil War and the early 20th century, I was very happy to win a free copy of the book in a giveaway on Goodreads.
The Orchardist did not disappoint.
It’s the story of Talmadge (his first name is William but no one ever calls him that), an aging man who owns a massive orchard east of Seattle. Talmadge doesn’t talk much, because he’s never had many people to talk to, but he tries very hard to be the best man he can be because the ghosts of the past haunt him every moment of every day and he wants to make the women who touched his life proud.
And it is mostly women who’ve been in his life, aside from his muted native friend Clee. His mother, his sister, Caroline Middey, Jane, Della, and Angelene… they all become Talmadge’s world in one way or another. Maybe it’s the not the healthiest thing for him, but it is what it is. There’s no doubt that he would do anything to keep any of them safe.
The haunting part of the story is that Talmadge’s mother died too soon, his sister disappeared into the great unknown too soon, Jane left (I won’t say how because it’s spoiler-y) before he could even get to know her, and Della was always so close and yet so far away.
Caroline Middey, someone he could have loved as a man loves a woman if he’d had the courage, and Angelene, somewhere between a second chance in place of his sister and the daughter he never had, are the only constants in his life.
Jane and Della are pregnant teenage sisters who escape from the man keeping them in the worst brothel I have ever read about and they find their way to Talmadge’s orchard. They’re almost feral in nature when they arrive, but he lets them stay and do as they please, knowing that they can’t go back to where they were.
In the end, he’s left with Caroline Middey and Angelene, and Della just out of reach.
But he’s desperate to get the people he loves together before he dies. And it’s easy to so why he wants it.
There isn’t any character I don’t understand or want to know more about in The Orchardist. Even the ones meant to be cut from similar cloths are so vastly different from one other that you can’t help but feel connected to them. And you end up so connected that when things happen, you literally feel like you were punched in the gut.
If you want to read the story of one part of America, the story of facing every obstacle imaginable and not always coming out on top… read The Orchardist.
I know I will read it again.