William Talmadge had a face that only a mother could love- lumpy, pockmarked, somewhat misshaped. Never mind that his mother had died while he and his sister Elsbeth were hardly more than children, or that his father’s death earlier had impelled his mother to march her two young children in a near fatal journey from Oregon to a high, isolated valley in Washington State where she planted an apple orchard. Then she died. William lovingly cared for the apples and Elsbeth until she walked into the woods one day and never returned. The only love that William had left was his orchard, but apples don’t love in return.
Gentle William remains reclusive in this turn of the century novel, until two filthy girl children steal fruit from him while he dozes at the marketplace. Later they appear at the orchard, watching from afar, like two feral kittens. William leaves food for them on his porch which they take, yet they won’t speak with him at first. Jane and Della, both very pregnant, have suffered unimaginable physical and sexual abuse and have escaped their captors. William becomes their protector, a role which he relishes, but had not enjoyed since sister Elsbeth’s disappearance years ago. Neither Jane nor especially Della accepts William in this role, but William cannot relinquish it..
When their abuser shows up, Jane and Della make decisions as to how they will face him. Both are equally life changing and heartbreaking. William feels that he has failed Della and Jane, but Jane’s daughter Angeline gives his life purpose. He thrives on loving, nurturing, and training Angeline to tend the orchards with him. As his herbalist friend Caroline states, “ …the point of children is …to bind us to the earth and to the present, to distract us from death. A distraction dressed as a blessing, but dressed so well and so truly that it becomes a blessing.”
This moving story embraces love, loss, change, and our own individual reactions to the same set of circumstances. It shows us that many times our dearest family members are chosen, and not an accident of birth.
Ms. Coplin’s novel is psychological, emotional, and beautifully written.If you enjoyed Peace like a River or The Outlander you will also enjoy The Orchardist.
RCW – Neighborhood Reader