When a lonely orchard tender shelters two young girls on the run from a cruel, vindictive pursuer, you'd expect some kind of romance to ensue. But in Amanda Coplin's lavish novel set in turn-of-the-last-century Washington State, another kind of love takes precedence—the kind that turns strangers into fellow saviors. After his mother's death and his sister's disappearance, William Talmadge has spent his whole adult life cultivating apples, pears and apricots in the remote wilderness. The two girls—Della and Jane—have left behind a childhood of unspeakable sexual abuse. Both are pregnant and wary of any human connection, preferring to sleep outside in the meadows and only coming up to the cabin porch to eat the meals Talmadge leaves for them. But when their abuser finally shows up, the two girls make a violent decision—one that alters all of their lives for decades. The exquisitely described landscapes in this tale astonish (expect "cold-embittered forests," "bright meadows thick with wildflowers" and "the dark maw of canyons") but so do the emotional lives of its characters, such as when Della tries to understand why she rides wild, untrainable horses that regularly threaten to kill her. "What she wanted was the despair," writes Coplin. "Or something else, something that lived with the despair. But the moment she found it, she failed to find what it was she wanted so badly. So she would ride again." Feeling anything just to feel something, helping somebody else with their past because you're helpless about your own, these are the kinds of complex, double-edged insights that make this book a wise and great American novel.
— Abbe Wright
Printed from Oprah.com on Wednesday, June 19, 2013