The Orchardist opens with a quote from poet Jack Gilbert. "The roses you gave me kept me awake with the sound of their petals falling". This quote made me pause and realize, before I even started the book, that I was in for a sensitive, thought-rendering read.
William Talmadge owns an orchard in the Pacific Northwest. He lives alone and spends his time lovingly tending the trees and fruit and selling it from his wagon in the town market. He spots two teenage girls with round bellies eyeing his produce. They are pregnant. As he nods off in the warmth of the sun, they steal what they can and run for it. Talmadge does not chase them, he packs up and heads home and they follow him.
Della and Jane are running from a horrible situation which they vow never to return to. They are hungry and desperate for compassion. Talmadge is interested in helping these girls so he feeds them and makes no demands of them, slowly trying to build their trust. The girls awaken the ghosts of Talmadge's past, the loss of his mother and the disappearance of his sister. One can never escape life without tragedy and yet bravely Talmadge opens his heart and orchard to these girls.
The backdrop of The Orchardist is the turn of the century where The Wild West meets the Intercontinental Railroad. Coplin takes the reader on a historical journey in time to discover how a place changes over time, not only the landscape but the people who live there. The setting of the book is beautiful. Coplin paints a picture with words that is at once intimate and haunting.
The storyline of The Orchardist evokes the beauty of time and space, but it also encompasses the evil that exists and the tragedy of children who grow up immersed in dire circumstances. Coplin writes with compassion and her characters are wonderfully flawed human beings that you can relate to.