One reason I'm in a book club is to be forced to read books I otherwise wouldn't. It helps expand my reading horizons, exposes me to new books and genres I am unfamiliar with, and then I also like hearing other people's perspectives and the camaraderie. This month I thought the camaraderie would be the only saving grace as I most definitely wasn't looking forward to the book. It's pretty long (425 pages) and Western and about an old guy with an orchard who takes in a couple of pregnant young girls. I thought it would be a retread of the excellent Plainsong by Kent Haruf, and in some ways it was, but set 100 years ago, and crossed with Room by Emma Donoghue. Oh, and it was much better than I expected.
Talmadge lives in Washington state around the turn of the last century, tending to his orchard. His mother and sister have long since died and he is all alone, aside from his friend Caroline, the midwife from the nearby town, and Clee, the mute Native American leader of a band of men who come through the orchard a couple of times a year with their horses on the way to auction. One day two young pregnant girls, Jane and Della, follow him home. Obviously homeless, seemingly almost feral, Talmadge feeds them, and eventually they become a mismatched and somewhat reluctant almost-family. Terrified of the man from whom they escaped, the girls are very hesitant to trust, and Talmadge who has lived alone for the majority of his life, isn't crazy about letting them in, but eventually they come to rely on each other. Then things go awry.
There are a few big plot twists that I don't want to give away, even ones that happen fairly early in the book, as it would be too much of a spoiler, although it does make it somewhat difficult to discuss the book.
The book is atmospheric, which much description of the place and the orchard and the things one must do to apple and apricot trees to maintain and harvest them. The loneliness is palpable, as is the girls' desperation. That said, while I did enjoy it, it was too long. There was a spot in particular towards the end when we had a lot of pages of filler that only served the purpose of dragging out the reader's anticipation of a reveal, which I didn't like. And I found the descriptions, while lovely, a bit longwinded. Some of the plot twists seemed melodramatic and to me had a hint of college writing class to them. The girls vacillated between seeming to be unable to understand or speak to Talmadge, to seeming quite intelligent, which baffled me pretty much the whole way through. Their characters never felt solidified and instead changed depending on the author's whims, which made it very difficult for a reader to get a grasp of them, and to have any idea what they might do. Why was Clee mute? That didn't seem to serve a purpose. And a few plot threads were dropped along the way. Finally, I have read three books in the last two months that don't use quotation marks and I am sick of it. It feels affected, pretentious, and it's confusing. Stop it.
Despite these complaints, I did enjoy it, although I certainly didn't love it. But it led to a very interesting discussion at book club, as I had thought it would.
I borrowed this book from the library.