The Orchardist (Paperback)
Harper Perennial, 9780062188519, 448pp.
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
September 2012 Indie Next List
— Nancy Felton, Broadside Bookshop, Northampton, MA
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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 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.
Praise For The Orchardist: A Novel…
“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...”
“[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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“A breathtaking work from a genuinely accomplished writer…Coplin’s lyrical style and forceful storytelling provide many unexpected twists before the poignant conclusion.”
“Eloquent, moving…an immensely affecting first novel...Coplin refuses to sentimentalize. Instead, she demonstrates that courage and compassion can transform unremarkable lives and redeem damaged souls.”
“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.”
“Beautifully written, so alive to the magnificence of the land and the intricate mysteries of human nature, that it inspires awe rather than depression.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“A superb work from an abundantly gifted young writer”
“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.”
“This is an extraordinarily ambitious and authoritative debut.”
“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.”
“The exquisitely described landscapes in this tale astonish, but so do the emotional lives of its characters…a wise and great American novel.”
“...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.”
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- How would you describe William Talmadge, the title character of The Orchardist? What adjective best describes his character? What are the factors that have shaped the man he is?
- Though he is mostly alone, Talmadge has two good friends, the herbalist Caroline Middey and the Indian horse catcher Clee. What draws these three people together?
- When Talmadge first meets the young sisters, Della and Jane, they are stealing his fruit. Why isn't he angry with them? Why does he want to help them? What does he see in them that others might not?
- Jane told Della that their unborn children were a gift. "'They were blessed, said Jane. "It would be themselves they give birth to, only better. That was why she and Della must work so hard to protect them, their children. In protecting the children, Jane and Della would save themselves." Why does Jane tell Della this?
- Talk about the sisters and the bond they share. Could most people survive the pain and shame of what they were forced to endure? What propels Jane's definitive act? What stops Della from following her? How do these choices reverberate in the years and events that follow?
- Explore Della's character. Is she a good person? What drives her restlessness? Why is she driven by revenge? Why can't she find solace with Talmadge and Angelene in the orchard?
- If he could articulate it, how would Talmadge define his relationship to Della? Do you think he thought of himself as Angelene's father? What about Angelene? Though he adored Angelene, "the emotion—the severity of it—also made him afraid." What was the root of Talmadge's fear? Why can love be simultaneously wondrous and terrifying?
- Is there anything Talmadge could have—should have—done to keep Della with him and Angelene in the orchard? What hold did Della have on him? Did his concern for Della and his longing for her overshadow his relationship with Angelene?
- Discuss Angelene and Della. How do they view one another? What kind of person does Angelene grow up to be? How might her life have been different if Della had been present?
- Could you live as Talmadge did? Do you think he was lonely? Did he enjoy his solitude? What about Caroline, Clee, Della, Angelene? Were they lonely? How is being alone different from being lonely?
- Talmadge insists that Della should return to the Orchard for Angelene. Caroline questions this. "Do they want each other? Does Angelene even want her, Talmadge?" she asks. He replies. "It doesn't matter what we want. It's blood." How important is blood to family? Are Talmadage, Angelene, and even Caroline a family? Would Talmadge agree with your assessment? What about Angelene and Caroline? What ties individuals together as family? Though they themselves cannot define it, what do each of these characters need from the other—including Della?
- Late in the novel, Talmadge watches Angelene working in the cabin. "She was the dream of the place that bore her and she did not even know it." Explain what he means.
- What is the significance of the landscape and the natural world in the novel? How does it relate to and shape the characters and the lives they lead? Can you think of some other books for which landscape is integral to the story? In the century since the novel's setting, we have built over much of our farmland and open spaces. How has this affected us as individuals and as a society? What have we gained? What's been lost?