Wednesday, April 23, 2014

THE ORCHARDIST by Amanda Coplin

William Talmadge is the title character, who tends his fruit trees in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900s.  He lives a solitary life until two pregnant girls, Jane and Della, come wandering out of the woods.  They’re virtually feral, and he leaves food out for them as he gradually builds their trust.  They’ve escaped from a prison-like brothel, owned by an evil man named Michaelson, who wants the girls back.  Jane’s baby, Angelene, is the only newborn who survives, but Jane herself, who struggles to bond with her infant daughter, dies shortly after the birth.  Della never becomes close to Angelene, leaving Talmadge to raise her, and leaving me to wonder if Della knows or suspects that Michaelson is Angelene’s father.  However, the author never addresses the subject of Angelene’s paternity, and perhaps both Jane’s and Della’s motherly instincts had not fully developed yet, since they were both so young.  Talmadge basically raises the rebellious Della as well, but she develops a talent for breaking horses and leaves the orchard, still a teenager, to pursue other adventures.  The story then becomes sort of a prodigal daughter parable.  Angelene becomes an orchardist in her own right, side-by-side with Talmadge, but he, still haunted by the sudden disappearance of his sister years ago, yearns for Della’s return.  He even includes Della in his will, and I kept expecting that decision to backfire in the end, but the author never mentions it again.  Eventually Talmadge locates Della, who is in jail voluntarily, and she becomes the focus of all of his energy, as he neglects both Angelene and the orchard.  Meanwhile, Angelene is sorting out her own emotions—anger, jealousy, frustration.  I felt that Talmadge was not the only one who ignored her; I don’t think that the author completely fleshed out Angelene’s character.  I get it that she is loyal and obedient, in contrast to Della, but that doesn’t mean that she has to be completely one-dimensional.

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