Oh boy. “The Orchardist,” by Amanda Coplin, was a book club pick, and judging from the long wait list to get it from the library, it’s really popular right now (at least in Seattle). I’m only lukewarm on this one.
It’s the story of Talmadge, a guy who has an orchard in Washington state. He came to the state with his mother and sister, but soon after arrival the children’s mother died. Then, when Talmadge and his sister were older, his sister goes out into the woods and disappears one day. Left alone, he works his orchard and really lives a pretty lonely life.
Then one day, two girls show up from the woods. Both are pregnant. Della and Jane, the two sisters, won’t come near Talmadge, but he feels the need to take care of them, and so leaves food on the porch for them to eat. Eventually they start to trust him, though they don’t really speak to him, and don’t live in the house with him. Talmadge enlists the help of his friend Caroline Middey, and they support the girls, then help them deliver their babies when the time comes.
Jane has one baby girl, Della has twins that don’t make it. Soon after this, a man from Jane and Della’s past returns, and the girls panic. Talmadge loses Jane in the ensuing events, and is left with Della, and Jane’s infant daughter.
The book then moves through Della growing older, and the scars she has from her horrible childhood; Angelene, Jane’s daughter, and her life growing up with Talmadge; and Talmadge himself, and his mission to raise Angelene and try to help Della.
The story is interesting, takes unexpected turns, and I think handles the emotions of the characters well. The descriptions in the book are lovely, and the characters are fully developed. For me, however, the problems with the book landed in technical details.
Coplin changes the point of view frequently, and often did it in the middle of paragraphs. It’s jarring–I found the POV shifts incredibly distracting and confusing. There was also a story line that drifted off into nothingness and was never resolved, despite it seemingly being really important to Talmadge at the start of the story. Again, distracting and confusing.
Overall, I finished this book and could only think, where was her editor? These were relatively simple things in the grand scheme of creating a novel. The hard parts were taken care of–pacing was good, plot was good, descriptions were good, characters were good. But it only takes those little things to totally ruin a book for me, and that’s the case with this one.