Let me start this way: it’s been a very, very long time since I read a book like Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist. This kind of plot-driven book felt like a throwback to my junior high and high school days when I picked through the slim reading selection in my small town library in rural Eastern Oregon. The Orchardist is such a great title too! However, as a reader, I was hoping to learn more about the workings of an orchard.
book cover from NPR
In addition to the landscape, The Orchardist is driven by characters too, though. Like in the reading forays of my youth, Coplin’s characters are often completely transparent, irrational, and occasionally infuriating. I wonder if Coplin was ever irritated with her Talmadge character like the reader would be at times.
The following could be considered somewhat of a ******spoiler******:
Much of Talmadge’s behavior can be forgiven because of his traumatic upbringing and the loss of his sister. What cannot be forgiven of Talmadge, nor of Coplin, is the violence enacted upon Jane as she is giving birth. Jane is a woman who has endured incredible abuse. In her deepest moment of vulnerability, when she is in labor, the midwife, Caroline Middey, and Talmadge are both complacent in her violation as they ignore her desire to be left to labor alone. Instead, they struggle with her even as she is on the brink of exhaustion. Talmadge violently grips and presses her thighs until the child is born. Jane indicates over and over that she wants to be left alone physically, but the well-meaning Talmadge and the trustworthy midwife do not abide. When Jane takes irreversible action soon after, the reader knows she wasn’t kidding about wanting to be left alone.
Each character in the novel possessed a combined inability to reach out, communicate, and move beyond the confines of their past and their current circumstances. There is no real character transformation in this book. The product of the story is Angelene, and this character’s welfare is completely unknown by the end of the book. As a reader, I was left wondering what became of Angelene.
In her debut novel, Coplin is a master of creating a gripping plot. However, the first page of the book is a long physical description of the main character that will make you want to put the book down. Those descriptions continue throughout without the book, without adding much if anything to the reader’s understanding of the plot or the characters. That said, Coplin will, no doubt, have a long career as a novelist, and hopefully she’ll learn to rein in those long descriptions.
Even with the long descriptive flourishes, the book will hold your attention and curiosity after the first few pages. In fact, I couldn’t put it down. Beyond her long-winded descriptions, her writing is effortless and entertaining. Some of the character’s insights are truly enlightening. If she writes a sequel about her character Angelene, I will read it. In fact, I’m quite curious to see what Amanda Coplin will write next.