Julie Christine's Reviews > The Orchardist

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
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it was amazing
bookshelves: best-of-2012, historical-fiction, read-2012, usa-historical, american-west

It is a rare read that cuts through the surface noise of daily life and becomes the one sound you can hear clearly, like a church bell on a still winter morning. It commands your full attention and you willingly shut out the world and surrender to the power of its images, characters and the force of its story. Amanda Coplin’s debut novel, The Orchardist, is one such book.

Set in the early years of the 20th century in the golden valleys and granite hills of Chelan county in north-central Washington state, The Orchardist is a fierce and poetic story of the Northwest frontier.

William Talmadge, the orchardist, has led a secluded, solitary life since he was a young man. Orphaned in early adolescence, he and his younger sister Elsbeth, worked on their own to build and maintain acres of apple and apricot orchards in the Wenatchee Valley. When she turns sixteen, Elsbeth vanishes. Whether she is taken or disappears of her own volition is a question that will haunt Talmadge as the century turns and he enters the later years of his life.

Talmadge provides refuge to two young women who appear in his orchard one day, filthy, starving and pregnant. By inviting them into his home, he opens the door to great tragedy and profound love. Talmadge is a nurturer – it is an undeniable facet of his character that he seeks to repair what has been damaged by neglect or abuse, whether it is sapling or a human heart.

But, as Talmadge learns, even the most tender care, the strongest scion of love and compassion, cannot heal all wounds.

Coplin’s prose is exhilarating. She composes with quiet confidence, her narrative rich in period detail. And although she describes ugly circumstances– the suffering of women trapped in desperate conditions, a time when deprivation and disease swept through communities with shocking regularity – she writes with such empathy and beauty that the heart is reminded to hope. And the heart is rewarded. And it is shattered.

Coplin’s writing is uniquely and brilliantly her own, but a few favorite authors came to my mind while reading The Orchardist: Toni Morrison, for her evocative and dark period pieces and haunted women; Ivan Doig for the warmth of his characters and his passion for the West; Kent Haruf for his restraint and gentleness; Tim Winton for his truth-telling about the complicated nature of family.

I always hold my breath when encountering a familiar setting or terrain in a book: will the author have a feel for the place, its light and colors, its scents and temperatures? Will she follow the undulations of its land and the shapes in its cities? Coplin, a native of the Wenatchee Valley, not only conveys the beauty of the sage-steppe of the Cascade mountain foothills, the gold of its valleys, the shimmering glory of its aspen forests and glacial lakes, she erases the damage wrought by the past one hundred years of development. You are taken to a time when the air and water were so pure, the land so unscathed, that you cry in homesickness for a place you never really knew. The names from my home, Wenatchee, Cashmere, Ellensburg, Methow, Walla Walla, Chelan, Okanogan, Stehekin, Dungeness, are renewed and flow through this novel like poetry.

This is one of those novels I want to carry around to show everyone, to bring up in every conversation even tangentially related to reading or the Northwest. I cried when I turned its final page. I wept for the characters, for the past, for the gift of reading sentences so beautifully and thoughtfully constructed. I reckon this will be my top read of 2012. Brava, Amanda. Thank you.


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Reading Progress

July 5, 2012 – Shelved
September 29, 2012 – Started Reading
September 30, 2012 –
page 75
17.61% "Yes. This will be one of the year's best reads."
October 1, 2012 –
page 195
45.77% "This has already made me cry. The story, the characters, the writing- I just want to savor it, soak it into my skin. Already decided to buy this for Brendan (Christmas). He will love it. And we should have our own copy."
October 2, 2012 – Shelved as: best-of-2012
October 2, 2012 – Shelved as: usa-historical
October 2, 2012 – Shelved as: read-2012
October 2, 2012 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
October 2, 2012 – Finished Reading
January 23, 2014 – Shelved as: american-west

Comments Showing 1-45 of 45 (45 new)

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message 1: by Jennifer (new) - added it

Jennifer Your review has convinced me. I am adding this to my to-read list.


Suzanne Really lovely review, Julie, one of your best. You captured so much of what makes this book great. This book is truly an amazing reading experience.


message 3: by Erika (new)

Erika Nerdypants Just added this to my holds at the library. Your review is beautiful and I'm looking forward to reading this.


Michael Such a pleasure reading the review. Very powerful to make a paragraph of: "But, as Talmadge learns, even the most tender care, the strongest scion of love and compassion, cannot heal all wounds." And it hits home to me the way you draw comparisons with four authors I like a lot. And explaining how it brings the Cascade foothills alive was effective. You thank the author, so I thank you for guiding me to the book.


message 5: by Heather (new) - added it

Heather Fineisen I love your review! Well done!


message 6: by B0nnie (new) - added it

B0nnie Wow fantastic. Brava Julie.


Julie Christine Thank you all for your lovely comments! This was such a moving read for me.


Suzanne Excellent review, Julie!


message 9: by Jessica (new) - added it

Jessica You had me at Kent Haruf. :) Added to my list...


Xanthe I just finished the book. Your review is lovely, Julie. Thinking about the book, it is the silences of the orchard and the people who tend it that also permeates the book. Not often words describe the white silences of the earth.

Also, the obvious connection of The Garden of Eden to the Orchard - opens up quite a rich literary tale if one chooses to write that.


Julie Christine Xanthe wrote: "I just finished the book. Your review is lovely, Julie. Thinking about the book, it is the silences of the orchard and the people who tend it that also permeates the book. Not often words descri..."

Thank you, Xanthe. I think this may be my "Book of the Year"


message 12: by Judy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judy Julie, your review is almost as lyrical and beautiful as the book. Thanks so much


Julie Christine Judy wrote: "Julie, your review is almost as lyrical and beautiful as the book. Thanks so much"

Thank you, Judy. O that I could write like Amanda Coplin!


message 14: by Melanie (new) - added it

Melanie This book keeps popping up on the horizon... I need to put it on my list for this year. Beautiful review!


Cherie I loved this book too, but my review does not do justice to yours! I loved that you want to carry it around to show everyone. I have pointed it out, more than once, to people, while they were browsing the shelves at my library. :)


Julie Christine Melanie wrote: "This book keeps popping up on the horizon... I need to put it on my list for this year. Beautiful review!"
One of those GR gremlins-but I love being reminded of this book. I need to see what Amanda Coplin is up to..


Julie Christine Cherie wrote: "I loved this book too, but my review does not do justice to yours! I loved that you want to carry it around to show everyone. I have pointed it out, more than once, to people, while they were bro..."

Isn't it wonderful when a book just stirs your soul!


Suzanne This was definitely my top read for 2012 and as far as urging other people to read it, I think there are a couple of restraining orders against me now.


Julie Christine Suzanne wrote: "This was definitely my top read for 2012 and as far as urging other people to read it, I think there are a couple of restraining orders against me now." We should get t-shirts made... ;)


Dlsaint This was a fantastic book. Great review.


Margitte You really convinced me with your excellent review! I was pulled into the story.


message 22: by Suzanne (new) - added it

Suzanne You haven't steered me wrong yet. Great review.


message 23: by Lynn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lynn Wonderful book. Excellent review, so well written that I am waiting to read a novel by you!


Julie Christine Dlsaint wrote: "This was a fantastic book. Great review."
Thank you DIsaint!


Julie Christine Margitte wrote: "You really convinced me with your excellent review! I was pulled into the story."
I look forward to your thoughts on this, Margitte! Enjoy.


Julie Christine Suzanne wrote: "You haven't steered me wrong yet. Great review."
Oh, I so hope you enjoy this, Suzanne.


Julie Christine :) No way can my writing compare to Amanda Coplin's, but I'm working on it!


message 28: by Antonia (new)

Antonia Deluca I totally agree on the review of the book. It was lyrical and so compelling. There are still great writers out there.


message 29: by Jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jo What a beautiful review/ just starting the book based on reviews like yours !


Kandi Your final paragraph sums this up beautifully - thank you for putting my thoughts into words I can not find.


Julie Christine Jo wrote: "What a beautiful review/ just starting the book based on reviews like yours !"

Thank you, Jo. I'm so delighted you ended up loving this book!


Julie Christine Kandi wrote: "Your final paragraph sums this up beautifully - thank you for putting my thoughts into words I can not find."

Oh, Kandi- thank you. Your comment means the world to me!


Margitte A magnificent review, Julie. I loved this book and I love what you did with it in this review.


Julie Christine Margitte wrote: "A magnificent review, Julie. I loved this book and I love what you did with it in this review."
Oh Margitte- thank you. This is such a wonderful book. I can't wait to see what she does next.

In a related, sad, note: much of the area that is the setting of this novel is ablaze- in the path of the worst forest fires in Washington state history.


Jessica Halleck Add me to the pile of those absolutely convinced they must read this based on your review!


Julie Christine Jessica wrote: "Add me to the pile of those absolutely convinced they must read this based on your review!"
I hope you love this, Jessica!


Margitte Julie wrote: "Margitte wrote: "A magnificent review, Julie. I loved this book and I love what you did with it in this review."
Oh Margitte- thank you. This is such a wonderful book. I can't wait to see what she ..."



so very sad indeed !!


message 38: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Really good review


message 39: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Really good review


Julie Christine Patrick wrote: "Really good review" Patrick, thank you. This is such an outstanding book!


message 41: by Lynne (new)

Lynne Wow! YOU should write a book. You have a way with words, my friend.


Julie Christine Lynne wrote: "Wow! YOU should write a book. You have a way with words, my friend."

Ah, so sweet, Lynne- thank you! And happy to report that my first novel launched last February, my second releases in September and I've finished a third! :)


message 43: by Jessaka (new)

Jessaka Beautiful review. Thanks.


Julie Christine Jessaka wrote: "Beautiful review. Thanks."

Thank you, Jessaka!


Karen You said what I wanted to say about the exquisite language within this novel. The author took me to this beautiful land.


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