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Talmadge is in town selling the fruit from his orchard one day when he notices two girls watching him. They’re very young and very pregnant. He dozes off for a few minutes and wakes as the girls run away with some fruit they’ve stolen. He decides not to chase them because they look hungry. A day or two later, the girls show up at the orchard. He starts cooking extra food and leaving it out for them but they won’t let him get too close.
Meanwhile, a stranger shows up in town looking for girls who sound an awful lot like the two Talmadge is watching over. Talmadge ponders things for a while and decides to meet with the stranger at his homestead. Talmadge does not like what he sees. The man, Michaelson, eventually offers to let Talmadge have 20 minutes with a nine-year-old girl for $2. Talmadge quickly leaves, resolved that Michaelson will never get his two girls back.
I really liked this on audio. Narrator Mark Bramhall’s rough voice suited the feel of the story perfectly.
I got frustrated with the book though. A large part of it centers around Talmadge trying to find the youngest girl, Della, after she’s grown up and left home. Della doesn’t seem to give a flip about anything at that point, and she definitely doesn’t care that she’s breaking his heart. I tried to tell myself that she’d been through unimaginable things and I needed to cut her some slack but I couldn’t. Then I would try to remind myself of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the lost sheep and that still didn’t work (I don’t know what it was about this book that brought out the Biblical references; it’s not remotely religious). Della doesn’t want to be found and I thought that should be the end of it. I’m obviously not a parent.
I tried looking at it from Talmadge’s point of view. He feels responsible for Della. But he also lost a sister when he was in his teens. She went into the woods one day and never came back. He just can’t find it in himself to let Della go as long as he thinks he knows where she is, and especially not after he learns that she’s in trouble. I could wrap my head around things a little better from his perspective. But I still wanted to shake him and point out that he was neglecting the girl who was still at home–sweet, faithful Angeline.
Angeline got the short end of everything. She’s a good girl so Talmadge doesn’t feel he has to worry about her too much. She’s pretty self-sufficient too. But even she seems to be hurt that Talmadge starts running off and leaving her alone to chase after Della, whom she barely remembers. I can’t decide if it was Bramhall’s narration falling short in this one respect or if Angeline was really written this way, but she did come across as a bit clueless. I had a hard time remembering how young she was as well. Her whole dialog seemed to be, “I don’t understand,” or “What’s going on?” or “Tell me what’s happening.” Bramhall’s high, breathless narration for her part didn’t help.
By the last few chapters, I was pretty much done so I’d tuned out. I kind of heard what happened to everybody but I was lost in my own thoughts by then.
The book really is well-written and has a strong sense of place. This could have been a case of the wrong book at the wrong time for me. If you’re in the mood for something fairly dark that explores the way that families can be formed and torn apart, give it a try.
Read an excerpt.
Buy The Orchardist at
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