A couple of nights ago my in-person book club met to discuss The Orchardist, a novel by Amanda Coplin. Two pregnant sisters, on the run from the man who has enslaved them to prostitution, find a home and a short-lived peace with another man, whose Eden-like life brims with the fruit of his flourishing orchards. Not everyone survives, and the first deaths occur early in the book, after which the remaining lives unfold despite the black cloud under which they begin. It's a gorgeous, expansive, heart-rending novel.
Well, that's one viewpoint: mine. We were quite divided. I found it to be a narrative which immediately pulled me into the lives of its characters and the Central Washington State landscape of the turn of the last century, despite the sparse prose and even sparser conversation of the laconic folk who people the story. Yes, there is horror and bleakness and heartbreak; it's not a jolly story. But I saw tremendous courage and resiliency and moments of redemption in the lives of each of the characters, in even the numbed and remote Della, dealt so many devastating hands in her tormented life.
Some of our group liked the book, or at least the writing. A few were in open revolt. They want cheerfulness, heroism, and happy endings in their novels, No one minds a challenge, but the end result needs to convey unambiguous triumph. I found the characters compelling despite their refusal to be transformed into success stories.
I suppose that our various reactions are even more intriguing than the novel itself. There's an entire story there.