The Orchardist – A Haunting and Gorgeous Historical Fiction

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I’ve been meaning to review The Orchardist for a while because I have every intention of mailing this to my lovely lady of the road, road trip buddy extraordinaire, a literary partner in crime… she’s amazing. You get the point. There are few people I would share books with and have no intention of seeing them again. But this book is a little treasure.

I picked this book up at Time Enough Books in Ilwaco, WA. It’s a tiny bookstore with a wonderful selection sitting on the Port of Ilwaco. You shouldn’t pass it up if you ever happen to be in town. I’m a big advocate of independent bookstores, and this one has a sweet ol’ dog waiting to greet you.

The green cover caught my eye, and when I read that it’s set in the Pacific Northwest, I decided to give it a read. I just moved to the great PNW from the cozy Ozark corner of Northwest Arkansas. I suppose you could say I wanted a bit of local flavor.

Amanda Coplin has a quiet, gentle writing style that is shaken only by the unfolding of conflict, like bolts of lightning in an otherwise peaceful world. The novel takes places in the late nineteenth century in the American western frontier. There is a shifting of times that occurs as you follow the life of the protagonist, Talmadge. This acknowledgment of worldly change outside the stories of the main characters adds a much-appreciated depth to the novel. The railroad reaches out to them, farming develops into an industry, nothing is stagnant.

The characters are bright with flaws and their own perceptions of the world. They are rich with personalities, not always doing what you, the reader, would wish them to do.

There is, of course, Talmadge who struggles with self-expression but is deeply empathetic. The two pregnant, teenage girls (Della and Jane) who enter his orchard stir up old wounds and create new ones. They are dark, mistrustful characters. Caroline Middey is a healer but imperfect in her wisdom. The one surviving daughter of the two girls, Angelene, grows and grasps at understanding her place in the orchard, in the lives of the other characters, in the changing world.

The antagonists are not larger than life but certainly frightening. Whether it be the violent opiate addict that the girls fled from or the characters’ own inner-demons, the conflict is tangible and simple enough to believe. This allowed me to become completely immersed in the story, trusting of the author, and aching for the characters.

If you enjoy darkly beautiful and soulful reads, this is one to pick up. It has a haunting air to it that will linger with you after you turn the last page.

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