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295 of 327 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Words, words, words, August 3, 2012
This review is from: The Orchardist: A Novel (Hardcover)
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The Orchardist, set at the turn of the twentieth century in the orchard country of Washington State, is part historical fiction, part elegy for a kind of lost Arcadia. Talmadge, a reclusive and sorrowful man who tends apricots, apples, and plums in the unspoiled reaches of the Wenatchee Valley becomes a foster father to two adolescent girls, Jane and Della Michaelson, escapees from a brothel owner who has enslaved them. In time, he becomes a foster father to Angelene, Jane's child. However, it is with the cold and emotionally damaged Della that his life becomes inextricably bound, even though she lives with him for only a few years.

At times, the novel evokes the history of the region: the coming of the railroad, the spread of large-scale orchards and distribution centers, the timber camps, the diminishing presence of the native tribes. (Oddly, there is almost no mention of Washington's tumultuous labor history in this period, although Della works in both a cannery and a timber camp.) However, the intent of the novel does not seem to be toward true historical fiction; instead, there is just enough period detail to sketch in the era.

The larger intent of The Orchardist is a poetic impulse; it seeks to convey the natural beauties of the region, as well as the powerful impression of place on human character and conduct. In this, Coplin is not entirely successful. This is a long novel (425 pages) and there are many many paragraphs devoted to descriptions of the landscape. These reverential passages, as well as the use of lengthy interior monologues, slow the novel down after a time. By mid-novel, one can feel the poetic sections and the extended ruminations arising like mist in the orchards, obscuring the narrative until they clear away and the thread of the story resumes once again.

One wishes that this were a sparer novel, one that relied on just enough observation rather than recurring (and repetitive) references to what has already been described. One wishes that the interior monologues conveyed just enough rather than every bit of thought process. The Orchardist is an interesting story wrapped, like a precious object, in too much packing.

M. Feldman
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 4, 2012 10:06:34 AM PDT
katie says:
It was one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read, I could not put it down, you felt like you were walking thru the Orchards and you could feel Della in the room. I loved it

Posted on Dec 18, 2012 7:46:01 PM PST
Judy Angerer says:
I agree with M. Feldman's comment.

Posted on Jan 31, 2013 2:25:45 PM PST
It was somewhat of a leap to believe that Della, after being abused by men, would subsequently seek out the company of men, engage in their type of livelihood and forsake Angelene, who was the only real tie to her sister Jane. The novel is long, and after awhile one grew weary of Della's endless pursuit of identity and Talmadge's strange fascination with her. However, I agree that the prose was beautiful and thoughtful and the novel is well worth reading.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2013 12:54:58 PM PST
Catgirl says:
I totally agree with you. I also thought it was a very sad story that left so many issues unresolved.

Posted on Oct 2, 2013 4:17:49 AM PDT
I totally agree with this review. The book was too long. The middle wore me down. It was unnecessarily long and descriptive, talking about feelings and places and events that were either already described, or that I didn't really care about. What I did care about was getting to know some of these characters better, and the reason or motivation for their actions. Like Carolyn Midday. What a great, strong woman. But, who was she? What did she desire? Why did she get sloughed off in the end with one sentence about her death?

Posted on Nov 6, 2013 12:41:49 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 6, 2013 12:43:59 PM PST
Highstream says:
Talk about "words, words, words," you've got the wrong period! The book is situated in the late 19th to very early 20th centuries, i.e., pre WWI. While the Wobblies got started around 1910 in Washington state, the bulk of labor battles in the region broke loose during and after the war, picking up again in the 1930s. Whatever the book's failings, and there are a few, the book deserves getting one's historical reference points right. Beyond that, I think the audio version, which shares the laconic feel of the book, does better.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 22, 2013 11:55:54 AM PST
S. Devitt says:
It's usually a mistake to judge fictional characters based on your assumptions about human behavior.

Posted on Jan 7, 2014 5:13:34 PM PST
Upstate says:
I agree with this review which is well written. The repetitive nature of the book almost spoils the fact that its, otherwise, a good book. The author could have reduced the book by about 1/4. As enjoyable as it was, its also a bit boring, again all due to the repetitive nature.

Posted on Jan 8, 2014 12:37:53 PM PST
Though flawed, I don't agree that the problem with the novel was that there were too many words. I liked the thoughtful prose about the setting. Like the time it is set in, things moved more slowly. I worry that I'm becoming saturated with TV series that keep a plot roaring ahead, but like many good books that I've digested, sometimes there is value in the careful consequential and reflective narrative that reflects an alternative pace of life. It's real too.

Posted on Jan 27, 2014 9:20:15 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 27, 2014 9:27:26 PM PST
As an advocate for children, I read the book due to the description of the female characters and how they dealt with an abusive past. I felt the novel was a good description of how lives can stay static if people are not able to open up to each other and discuss both facts and feelings. When people keep their ideas going in circles in their heads, it is very difficult for their personalities to grow as much as they could if they got help in finding the source of their ideas, as well as the reality that people can grow out of hurtful situations when given the opportunity. Someone's past does not have to dictate the whole of their future, unless she allows it to happen (or is unable to change). The sadness comes because the orchardist is unable to talk to the girls, unable to express his feelings, unable to elicit their feelings from them. The lack of verbal communication is one of the main themes, combined with the picture of painful errors people make when they assume they know what the other is thinking or what is best for the other without exploring jointly all the many options life offers if people just look and work to find the best ones - and then start working towards that goal. Only Angelene and Talmadge's female friend make an attempt to do so. The language was beautiful. Not being able to read it all in a day or 2, I didn't get the sense of repetition described in other reviews. The picture descriptions were easy to "see" because the descriptions included "food" for all the senses. Only rarely did I feel it was a bit too much, because I felt it was part of the descriptin of their being caught up in a cycle of misunderstanding of people - but they could understand the sensible, methodical way Nature works as the orchard grows. Perhaps Nature was their escape from the confusion of human thought (and the depravity they suffered through.)
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M. Feldman

Location: Maine, USA

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