The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin, is a novel about a lonely orchardist who enters into a tenuous relationship as caregiver for two runaway, pregnant teens. After Jane and Della take up residence in his apple and apricot orchards, Talmadge discovers the reason for their flight—a cruel hermit who enslaves and tortures young girls and women. Only one child of the two girls survives, Angelene, whom Talmadge raises with the help of Miss Caroline Middey. (Coplin almost always refers to Talmadge soley by his last name and Miss Caroline Middey almost always by both names and title.)
After the tragic demise of Della’s babies and Jane’s suicide, Della seems incapable of raising her niece, Angelene. In fact, she is plagued by a desire to flee, to do something dangerous, to tempt fate. The narratives of her life after leaving the orchard are fraught with near disasters, while Angelene lives in the safe and placid orchard.
Coplin’s characters are complex. Talmadge is haunted by the death of his mother but mostly by the disappearance of his sister when they were both youths. His obsession with bringing Della back into the fold at the orchard speaks to his desire to find and reunite his lost family. Della is damaged beyond recovery by the hand of her enslaver, and despite Talmadge’s efforts, cannot keep from creating her own undoing. The pace of the novel is often slow, echoing the tone of life in the orchard. When the action reaches a climax, Coplin speeds through the scene at a nearly chaotic pace, so that readers need the interjected newspaper accounts to help understand what actually occurred.
Coplin recreates the life of the orchardist well in her novel, having grown up on her grandfather’s orchard in Washington. Along with the historic elements of the novel—the coming of the railroad, the growth in industrialized harvesting and shipping practices—readers will sense Coplin’s sincerity and honesty. The Orchardist was published in 2012 by HarperCollins.