Within the pages of novels, authors can preserve the world at one specific moment in time, like a dragonfly in amber. In The Orchardist, first-time novelist Amanda Coplin accomplishes an even trickier feat, blending past and present by weaving modern concerns into an old-fashioned narrative. The result is a drama of truly epic proportions.
The titular character of Coplin’s novel is a man named Talmadge, whose ties to the Pacific Northwest are as strong and gnarled as the roots of the ancient fruit trees he tends in his orchards. Although this land has borne witness to the struggles of his family across the decades, at the novel’s opening, Talmadge’s existence is a solitary but uncomplicated one. All this changes when he comes upon two pregnant and vagrant teenagers stealing apples from his trees. When Talmadge fails to give chase, Jane and Della ultimately return to the safety of his land, and an unlikely alliance forms as Talmadge’s compassion and long dormant desire to connect with others prompts him to take the two sisters under his protection. Alas, the tentative family they forge is not meant to last: A tragic event teaches the trio that there is nowhere you can go where your past will not find you.
This is one of those rare novels in which the individual parts are so brilliantly rendered that together they form a near-perfect reading experience. The characters are written with such compassion and the writing rings with a conviction and emotional honesty that belies Coplin’s youth. 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.