Since the death of his mother and mysterious disappearance of his sister several decades ago, William Talmadge has lived alone on his apple orchard, carefully tending his crops and riding miles into town to sell them at the market. It is now the turn of the twentieth century, and aside from his acquaintances in town and couple of close friendships, Talmadge has lived this quiet, solitary existence in the Pacific Northwest for most of his life. Then at the market one day, two pregnant young girls named Della and Jane steal some of his apples, and his life is changed forever.
Talmadge encounters the girls again on his farm not long after; they watch him from afar and continue to steal fruit from his orchard. They’re filthy and skittish — still just children, really — and Talmadge, sensing their history of abuse and neglect, tries to help them as best he can. He leaves food for them and takes care not to frighten them. He goes about his business on the orchard in his slow, purposeful way and mostly ignores the girls; eventually, they are the ones who go to him. While the girls still don’t fully trust him, they are relatively sure he won’t hurt them, and three settle into a quiet coexistence on the orchard.
And it is here, not even remotely skimming the book’s surface, where I must stop for fear of giving too much away. Not even a quarter of the way through the book, I felt as if I had already read a fully-fleshed, emotionally-draining novel. At that wasn’t even 100 pages in.
So instead of talking about Amanda Coplin’s incredible facility with spinning a good story, let’s talk about her haunting descriptions, particularly regarding the book’s heart and soul, The Orchardist himself, Talmadge, with his cornflower blue eyes and his face that is “pitted as the moon:”
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.
There couldn’t be a passage more fitting for a character; Talmadge is gentle, methodical, and morally upstanding, but he’s also someone who is haunted by the loss of his family all those years ago. He’s quiet and often impenetrable; his good friend Caroline Middey is often the only one who knows what he’s thinking, and even then, she’s sometimes at a loss. Talmadge has also spent his entire existence governed by nature: when to plant, when to harvest, whether he’d have a good year or a bad one. Miles from town, he’s at nature’s mercy regarding nearly every aspect of life.
I almost didn’t read this book because I thought it wouldn’t appeal to me, but I was so very wrong; The Orchardist is actually one of my favorite books so far this year. It’s an astonishing, exquisite debut.
The Orchardist was released on August 21, 2012 by Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. This book is on tour right now, so check out what other bloggers are saying about it.