Friday, December 14, 2012

The Orchardist

 

At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive orchardist, William Talmadge, tends to apples and apricots as if they were loved ones. A gentle man, he's found solace in the sweetness of the fruit he grows and the quiet, beating heart of the land he cultivates. One day, two teenage girls appear and steal his fruit from the market; they later return to the outskirts of his orchard to see the man who gave them no chase. Feral, scared, and very pregnant, the girls take up on Talmadge's land and indulge in his deep reservoir of compassion. Just as the girls begin to trust him, men arrive in the orchard with guns, and the shattering tragedy that follows will set Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect but also to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past. 

Several of my friends (Deana? Liz?) loved this book and, intrigued by the description above, I decided to give it a try and so I slipped into the hazy, dreamlike world of this intriguing debut novel. The writing is beautiful -- as precise and lyrical and spare as the life of the orchardist himself. Dialogue is minimal and quotation marks are not used -- something that can annoy me but somehow, in this novel, seemed right.

It's an odd book that breaks most of the 'rules' for popular fiction -- but then, this is literary fiction. The action is slow and repetitive -- but so is the turning of the earth and the cycle of the seasons. . . The characters' motivations are not clear, neither to us nor to themselves -- but isn't that true of many of us?

I hesitate to call this book a page-turner but the truth is, except for nodding off into my own oxycodone-induced haze now and then, I read it straight through

The setting -- a lonely valley in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900s -- was fascinating to me and I could see similarities to life here in western North Carolina at the time (minus the wild horse roundups.) But the vast spaces and opportunities and essential wildness of the West are there too, in sharp contrast to the tranquil shelter of the orchardist's valley.

Also familiar to me were the eternal round of tasks on a farm; the yearly sameness that can have a ritual beauty transcending tedium.

The entire story seemed to me like watching a play taking place behind a veil -- that could have been the oxycodone again. Rather than using dialogue to advance the story, the characters do a lot of  inner reflection -- pages and pages of it but these reflections seem to touch on the great questions of life and it is in these reflections that the characters come alive.

A beautiful, mysterious, and ultimately puzzling book -- probably not for everyone but what book is? I can see I'm going to have to read it again (without the drugs) to clarify for myself how exactly I feel about it. 
 
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11 comments:

Victoria said...

Vicki, this sounds like a book I would love, thanks for posting about it. I'm going to see if my bookstore can order it for me.

I hope your knee is getting better and better with each passing day.

Blessings,

Victoria

Ms. A said...

Seeing those photos makes me wonder, once again, what happened to the apple trees at my grandparent's place. I'd like to shoot the jackass that cut them down! (without permission I might add)

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Martin said...

"It's an odd book that breaks most of the 'rules' for popular fiction..." That sold it for me, Vicki. It's on my list.

Brian Miller said...

huh, intriguing.....i like books that break the rules and try new things....so i am def putting this one on the list...

hope you have a great weekend vicky

Brian Miller said...

whoops vicki....

Mamabug said...

This sounds like a good read for a winter day. Going to amazon to look for it. Hope that knee is getting better every day! Hugs and good thoughts heading your way. Wish I could have sent you a bowl of brunswick stew!

Coloring Outside the Lines said...

Adding to my list- thanks for the preview!

NCmountainwoman said...

I have picked up this book and pondered it every time I have gone to the bookstore. Next time I will pick it up and buy it.

Darla said...

Hmmm... quite the thoughtful reflection upon the novel. And loved the last photo!

jennyfreckles said...

The cover itself would entice me in.