The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin, HarperCollins, 2012, 426 pp
The Orchardist and I have a strange history. The book came to me months ago via my niece who got it from her mom, my sister. Then it was chosen for one of my reading groups in May. I started reading it the day I fell ill and read it off and on between naps, read it while in the hospital, and finished it the day after I got home. Much of that time, I was medicated and tired, fearing for my life, then in the foggy state of convalescence.
It is essentially a deeply sad story. People run away, are abused, die, but other people grieve, love, nurture, and try to do right. I suspect that my state of mind and precarious health had a lot to do with my perception of the book. On some of those days, I could not bear to read it. The slow pace of the story matched my own and I could pick it up after a day or a nap and just be right there again.
The prose is incredibly beautiful. The rural Pacific Northwest at the turn of the 20th century is described so vividly, I think a reader who had never been there would recognize it on a first visit. The characters are each some unique variation on rugged individual and Ms Coplin evokes their sorrows, their moments of accomplishment, their connections and divisions, as well as John Steinbeck or Wallace Stegner or Marianne Wiggins or Jane Smiley. This is her first novel!
I read the final 100 pages on that first full day at home from the hospital. I had no energy, was weak and dizzy, and felt I needed to get the orchardist and his weird family out of my mind so I could concentrate on getting well. Of course that didn't happen. I did get well several weeks later but the book with its haunting tone of regret and loss seemed to prove, even more than my own experience did, that human beings can survive almost anything, even recover, but none of it leaves our minds.
(The Orchardist is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)