The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
Published by Harper Perennial ISBN 978-0062188519
Trade paperback, $15.99, 448 pages
Sometimes you read a debut novel and you just know that you will hear great things from this author time and again. After reading Amanda Coplin's amazing The Orchardist, I know that she is in that category.
Her character of Talmadge is one I can't get out of my head. Talmadge lives on his family's orchard in the western United States at the turn of the 20th century, all alone since his teenage sister walked into the woods one day and never came back. Did she run away? Was she kidnapped or killed? The answer to that question burns a hole in Talmadge's heart.
He is a taciturn man, and he has little contact with other people, save for Caroline, who tends to the townspeople's medical care, and the native American men who bring their horses through each spring and camp nearby.
One day Talmadge finds two nearly feral teen girls hiding in the orchard. He tries to make contact with him, but they are afraid. He leaves them food and blankets, and soon he breaks through to talk with Jane and Della. They are both pregnant and scared to death. He convinces them to come live inside his home, and has Caroline check them out medically.
Slowly, Talmadge discovers where the girls came from and he goes there in an misguided attempt to find out what happened to them and why they left. The girls fled a bad man and a worse situation, and Talmadge's discovery of this leads to a tragic event.
In his mind Talmadge hopes that by taking care of these girls, he can make up for not taking good enough care of his sister. Her disappearance changed his life forever, and this is a chance to redeem himself and have a family of his own.
The book alternates telling Talmadge's and Della's stories, but to say more would be to reveal parts of the story that are best left discovered by the reader herself, and this is a beautifully written story you will want to discover for yourself.
Talmadge is one of the most indelible characters in recent memory. His story is one of loyalty, redemption and the importance of family, whether it's the one you are born into or one you create. Congratulations to Amanda Coplin who won the Barnes & Noble Discover Writers Award for Fiction last night in New York City. The story is here.
The Orchardist made many Best of 2012 list, including my Most Compelling Books of 2012, and if you haven't read it yet, it's now in paperback.
rating 5 of 5