And above and below all this was the sound of the child’s cries, hovering in the trees, seeming to come from all directions at once. Was it a comfort? It was all new – the company, the sounds – but also he felt as if it had been going on for a long time. He was, he thought – and was shocked at this discovery – happy. - from The Orchardist, page 74 -
William Talmadge is an orchardist in the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the century. He is no longer a young man and he carries a continuing grief for his sister who disappeared one day into the woods and was never seen again when they were both still children. It is this history which perhaps allows Talmadge to tolerate two young girls who appear on his property, both pregnant and traumatized. Talmadge is drawn to the girls, wants to care for them and provides them with food and a place to stay…but it is an uneasy alliance. Talmadge’s long time friend, Caroline Middey who is the local midwife, cautions Talmadge about his involvement with these two girls, named Jane and Della. One day men arrive at the orchard with guns, and what unfolds is both tragic and unexpected, and has long reaching consequences for all the characters, including Jane’s newly born daughter, Angelene.
She was like an egg encased in iron. She was the dream of the place that bore her, and she did not even know it. – from The Orchardist, page 418 -
The Orchardist unfolds over decades and centers primarily on Talmadge, a gentle loner who longs for a family, and three women: Caroline Middey, practical and motherly; Angelene, who represents hope for the future; and Della, a lost young woman who is angry and searching for herself. Of them all, it is Della who is the most difficult to understand and the character who stands on the outside. Filled with despair and grief, Della leaves the orchard and the man who wants to raise her as his own – she goes out into a world filled with uncertainty and violence and struggles to find comfort where there is none.
And then other things distracted her. Drinking, but that was not all of it. Riding horses wasn’t enough anymore, to access that despair that she needed so badly. - from The Orchardist, page 147 -
If Della is less than sympathetic at times, it is Talmadge who tugs at the heartstrings of the reader. He wishes to right the wrong in his life (the unexplained disappearance of his sister) by creating a family with Angelene, Caroline and Della – but fate and a sense of inevitability stand in his way.
She fought against the same force against which he fought. Fate, inevitability, luck. God. He would fly in the face of this force now, for her. If she could be freed from it, he would free her. He would make it all up to her, now. - from The Orchardist, page 342 -
The Orchardist examines grief, loneliness, the healing force of nature and solitude, redemption, and the search for one’s identity. The novel’s sense of place and time is strong, with beautiful and lyrical descriptions of the Pacific Northwest and more specifically, the isolated life an an orchardist in the early part of the twentieth century.
Strengths: descriptions of nature, characterization – very literary. Captures time and place well.