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‘Orchardist’ explores depth of family relationships

The Orchardist is a straight story – a first novel – but without the psychological twists that seem to characterize contemporary fiction.

In more or less the mid-19th century, the Talmadge family – a mother, with her son and daughter – walk across the Cascades, later coming across a small farm with many fruit trees, which they began tending. Not long after that, the mother dies – in the spring of 1860.

Then, there are the years spent with the dreadful Michaelson from whom they eventually manage to flee. Brother and sister build a cabin and sell the fruit they cared for. One day, Elsbeth, his sister, went into the forest to collect herbs – and never came back. Her brother, later called Talmadge, was devastated.

For 40 years he cared for the farm, buying more and more acreage to surround the place in which his sister disappeared. One day as he was selling apples in the town, two girls, both pregnant, stopped by and took some of his apples. Later they showed up on his farm.

Without acknowledging them, intuiting they didn’t trust people, he gave them water to clean with and food; respected their privacy – without approaching them; addressed the empty air when he wanted to tell them something, such as he would be away for a few days. Gradually, they began to trust him and to work the fruit trees with him.

Talmadge gradually learned of this person, Michaelson, with whom the girls had lived, and determined to find him. Michaelson had put up a poster in town offering a reward for the return of the sisters, but no one in town cared to talk with Talmadge about Michaelson.

He finally found him and is invited to spend 20 minutes with his nine-year-old daughter – for $2. Later Michaelson appears on the farm and Jane, high in a tree – who has already given birth to a daughter, sees him and jumps to her death.

Della, whose baby is born dead, more or less loosens herself from her family, learning to ride, going off into the town, drinking and gambling, but Jane’s baby, Angelina, lives and grows up with Talmadge, thinking of him as her father.

As time passes, Angelina grows up, but Della, meanwhile, has devoted her life to killing Michaelson and takes terrible means, finally getting herself into the jail in which he is incarcerated – condemning herself to a life in jail. The plot gets intricate at this point, but the plot is not the point.

The family relationships – Angelina’s loyalty and Della’s fierce determination to kill Michaelson in revenge (not just because her beloved sister commits suicide over him); her time in jail and Talmadge’s attempt to free her; Angelina’s loyalty; and Della’s fierce determination to kill Michaelson – consume the rest of the book.

This is not the kind of novel in which the plot is the important element. The relationships, the background and the character of the people in the novel make for a fine read.

Also, we participate in a different time and space – the writer make this very real, just as she makes the people real.

And, at the end, they fade in time, the years take over and the reader is no longer with them. This, then, makes the tale history, rather than a story.

Book info:
The Orchardist
By Amanda Coplin
Harper Collins, $26.99

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Posted by on June 20, 2013. Filed under Arts and Entertainment,Book Reviews,Columns,Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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