A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
At first this novel reminded me of another, Plainsong by Kent Haruf, in which two reclusive bachelor farmers decide to take in a pregnant teenager who becomes like family to them. In The Orchardist, William Talmadge is also a loner whose life does not extend far beyond the apple and apricot trees in his orchard, and he also encounters two pregnant teenagers for whom he becomes an unofficial guardian. The similarities end there, however. These troubled girls have escaped from forced prostitution, and their story and struggles become his, as does responsibility for their one surviving infant.
This beautifully haunting story takes place in the state of Washington around the turn of the last century. The language is lushly descriptive of the land and evokes the slow-paced rural life of this time period. The reader can sense Talmadge’s love for his trees and fruit, which he passes down to Angelene, the girl he raises from infancy. Talmadge is an honorable man who wants to do the right thing. Other true-to-life characters include the horse wranglers who appear from time to time to help in the orchard, and Caroline Middey, a friend who serves as the mother figure in this pieced-together family. All share in the tragedy and sorrow of these damaged girls, as well as the beauty of their environs and the love that develops among them.
I listened to the audio version of this book, and found it to be almost hypnotic in its lush prose and slow pace. Readers of the print version will likely have a similar experience.
Reviewed by Nancy