The Orchardist

By Amanda Coplin

(HarperCollins, $26.99, 448 pages)

Who is this author?

You’ve likely not yet heard of Amanda Coplin, a young writer from Washington state with degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of Minnesota and residencies at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Omi International Arts Center at in Ghent, NY. “The Orchardist” is Coplin’s debut novel and draws in part on her family history. Publishers Weekly named it one of the 10 best books of Fall 2012.

What is this book about?

Coplin lives in Portland, Ore., but “The Orchardist” is not tinged with the snarky hipster-teasing vibe of the TV show, “Portlandia.” Rather, it is set about 100 years ago in the Pacific Northwest, where quiet and gentle Talmadge devotes his life to growing apples and apricots.  His peaceful, reclusive world is upended when two pregnant, hungry teenage girls, runaways from a cruel brother owner and opium addict, steal some fruit and then steal Talmadge’s compassionate heart. He offers shelter, but this is no idyll: the brothel owner, who specializes in young girls, and his men track them down and the first of several tragedies ensues. Some characters survive, but more violence is on the way. Yet in between these sieges, we get a touching story of how a family comes to be, fashioned from love that struggles to wipe away terrible pain.

Why you’ll like it:

Coplin writes with lyrical eloquence, but is not sentimental in telling this story, which mixes hope and despair. Her characters are deeply touching and you want them to overcome their dire circumstances. While that is not to be in every case, she has created believable people who engage your sympathy, and her skillful rendering of time and place add additional power to this very moving novel.

What others are saying:

Says author Wally Lamb, “When you pick up “The Orchardist,” you will be lured at first by the lushness of the language. But soon enough the characters will take hold of you and you’ll read on hungrily, as if under a spell. It’s hard to believe that this is Amanda Coplin’s first novel.”

“… when two starving, heavily pregnant teenage girls, Jane and Della, turn up on his land in 1900, [Talmadge] feels protective toward them even before he learns their history. …“Why are we born?” wonders Della, a question that haunts all the characters. Coplin offers no answers, only the hard certainties of labor and of love that are seldom enough to ease a beloved’s pain. Yet the novel is so beautifully written, so alive to the magnificence of the land and the intricate mysteries of human nature, that it inspires awe rather than depression. Superb work from an abundantly gifted young writer,” says Kirkus Reviews.

The Seattle Times calls the book “… engaging and enthralling. The reader wants to turn each page quickly as the story develops, and wants at the same time to dwell on the lyrical moments of sunshine, soil and love. “

Entertainment Weekly says:  “There are echoes of John Steinbeck in this beautiful and haunting debut novel set in early-20th -century Washington State…Coplin depicts the frontier landscape and the plainspoken characters who inhabit it with dazzling clarity.”

When is it available?

You can pluck “The Orchardist” from the Downtown Hartford Public Library’s new book shelves.

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