It’s rare that I’m quite as conflicted about a book as I am about The Orchardist, a debut novel by Amanda Coplin. Though I love books that take place in the American West of the 1800s, I also generally dislike sad books. Personally, there is so much sadness in the world that I would rather read a book that is uplifting.
In its way, however, The Orchardist is uplifting. It features some of the kindest fictional people I have ever come across. They are contrasted, however, by characters that are sheer and truly evil.
William Talmadge (known only by Talmadge throughout the book) cares for apple and apricot trees in Washington in the late 1800s. One day, two young adolescents, both clearly pregnant despite their young age, wander onto his property, desperately hungry. Still, they are like wild dogs, fearful of every move he makes. He provides food by setting it outside where they can eat without his presence.
It becomes clear that they have been living in an unbelievably horrific situation, from which they have escaped. Still, taking these girls under his wings leads to circumstances that he could never have imagined.
So, my conflict comes from this being a sad book written by a new author whose prose is utterly beautiful. The book is unique and while sad, also provided evidence that the definition of family doesn’t have to come from blood.
Though disturbing, The Orchardist challenged all of my senses, and overall I found it to be a very satisfying read.