Thursday, October 11, 2012
I had thought, a week ago, that I would dedicate this post to both novels read during (and just after) my trip to Italy, but in my heart there is room for just this one. Amanda Coplin's first novel, The Orchardist, deserves every line of praise you likely have already have read, and I turn, decidedly, from the voices of any who might complain. This is a book of compassionate genius. Period.
The Orchardist is late 19th-century, northwest. There is land. There is a lonesome man, Talmadge. There are two girls, sisters, both of them abused and pregnant and lost. There is an herbalist. There are apples and apricots and lettuce, horses, horse traders, pickers, craters. There are babies, and just one survives.
From these raw elements Coplin produces a portrait of an era complete, shattered, shattering. She dedicates the soul of this book to biblical themes—prodigal children, irremediable sins, revenge and its hollow aftertaste, a father's inequality, unconditional but unspoken love. She writes like very few write, like my friend Alyson Hagy writes—so elegiacally sure, so unafraid, so careful to meet the darkness and to know the darkness and to deliver, nonetheless, blinding light. No one will ever convince me that Talmadge didn't live, or that the baby Angelene isn't living, still, or that somewhere in the northwest, a grove of gnarled trees isn't recalling two ruined sisters.
I have had so much work to do since my return from Italy but I refused to do it until I finished reading The Orchardist. I am in awe of it. I am grateful for it. I believe that this first-time novelist has written a book that any long-time novelist would say, secretly or out loud, That was the one.
There was a certain uncanniness Angelene felt opening her closet in the morning, her oatmeal-colored dress hanging in the space on its hanger, her workboots leaning against each other on the porch. (You turned them over and shook them, knocked them on the post, for mice.) The narrow bed with its purple, red, and green quilt, the bedside table with its jar of rocks, piled books. The porcelain basin near the window where she washed her face, the pitcher with the brown rose painted on it, the large crack like a vein in the bottom of the basin. The apricot orchard, the buzzing bees like a haze in spring. The barn–the smell of hay and manure, grease, old leather. The sun streaming through the slats. The mule's nose in her palm.
All of these things she kept inside herself, constantly rearranged them, to create her happiness. Being alone, she was able to see each thing more clearly. Although there was fear in solitude, somehow this only made things sharper.